How To Use Ratings & Rankings

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I get a lot of emails asking about the various ratings and rankings used in Junior Tennis, so let me try to explain the differences between USTA rankings, Tennis Recruiting Star ratings, Tennis Recruiting rankings, and Universal Tennis ratings and how best to use each one. I have been talking extensively with people at each organization about what their numbers mean, how they are derived, how college coaches use them, and why they are relevant. Since TennisRecruiting.net is in the midst of its Star Rating Period, and since high school juniors and seniors are in the throes of college recruiting, it seems like the right time to present this information again.

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between a ranking and a rating. A ranking is an ordered list of players from best (#1 or top-ranked) to worst. You can look at a ranking list and see exactly where a particular player falls among his or her peers. Typically, in head-to-head competition, the better-ranked player is expected to win, and it is considered an upset when a player ranked several spots below gets the victory. A rating, on the other hand, identifies and groups together players of similar levels of skill and/or competitiveness. You can use ratings to find practice partners and opponents at a similar level regardless of age or gender, and some tournaments (see the New Balance High School Tennis Championships) are now using ratings as a selection and seeding tool to ensure more competitive matches. Depending on the system, you can predict who will win a particular match based on the range of difference between the players’ ratings.

Let’s start with the Points Per Round (PPR) ranking system since it’s been around the longest and is the one used by USTA (a similar system is used by ITF) to determine selection into sanctioned tournaments. With PPR, a player earns ranking points in his/her current age group (as well as older age groups if the player chooses to “play up”) based on the level of the tournament played as well as which round the player reaches in that tournament. Moving forward in a tournament draw, whether by an actual match win or by a default or walkover, is all that matters in this ranking system. Main draw matches count for more points than do backdraw matches. USTA takes the player’s top 6 singles tournament results plus the top 6 doubles results (doubles only counts at 25%) within the previous 12-month period to determine his/her ranking at the local, sectional, and national level. The only time an opponent’s ranking is considered is in determining whether to award Bonus Points for a particular match win. Rankings are typically updated weekly. The actual points awarded by tournament level and by round changes slightly each year and varies by section, so be sure to look on your section’s website for the latest information.

Tennis Recruiting (TRN) publishes both rankings and Star Ratings based on a player’s high school graduation year. Rankings are updated each Tuesday and Star Ratings are updated twice per year. Unlike PPR, players are not rated or ranked by age group but rather by recruiting class. Head-to-head results definitely factor into both the ratings and the rankings on TRN though the algorithms they use are way too complicated for me to understand or explain (click here for my 2012 article on the intricacies of TRN)! TRN counts only singles matches (doubles are not included) that actually start, even if one player retires during the match. An exception would be a match in which a player plays one (or just a few) points to avoid Suspension Points by USTA. Dallas Oliver of TRN told me, “In our system, winning always helps – although wins over players rated far below do not help much. Losing badly always hurts (close losses can actually help in our predictive rankings which use scores) – although losses to players rated far above do not hurt much. So it’s all about competition – and the back draw gives you the chance to play more matches.” TRN uses both USTA junior tournaments and ITF tournaments to calculate its ratings and rankings. At this time, high school and ITA matches are not included.

Universal Tennis (UTR) publishes ratings based solely on actual matches played. They look at a player’s 30 most recent singles match results (doubles are not included), apply their proprietary algorithm, then rate the player on a scale from 1-16.5 to provide a snapshot of where a particular player is in comparison to other players in a given week. Gender is not a consideration. Neither is age nor country of origin. All players world-wide are rated together on the same scale. Only matches that are actually played are included. Walkovers or defaults are not counted. And, UTR pulls match results from a wide variety of sources including USTA junior tournaments, USTA adult tournaments, high school matches, ITF tournaments, ITA tournaments, and college dual matches among others. According to the UTR guiding principles, any two players within a 1.0 rating differential should have a competitive match, and if a player rated more than 1.0 below the opponent wins the match, that is considered an upset. For more information, click here and here.

Lately, there has been a lot of conversation around “gaming” these various systems, especially in terms of avoiding lower-ranked/rated opponents in order to manipulate the numbers. Rest assured that the brains behind TRN and UTR are constantly on the lookout for the “gamers” as are college coaches. With PPR, it’s a bit easier to get an inflated ranking just by scouring draws and traveling to weaker tournaments to earn points. With UTR and TRN, that simply doesn’t work since each opponent’s rating and ranking are taken into consideration. As Bruce Waschuk at UTR explained to me, “If a player ducks too many matches, they could end up with an unreliable UTR, at which point tournament organizers will no longer use their rating for seedings or selections. Some college coaches do check actual draws to see if a prospective recruit demonstrates chronic match withdrawal characteristics. Being too clever with respect to matches played in an effort to ‘game’ rankings or ratings could hurt a junior in the end, if their goal is to play college tennis.”

Now that you understand how the various numbers are calculated, what’s the best way to use these indicators?

For entry-level players who are just starting to play tournaments, PPR is probably the most important number since it determines your USTA ranking and whether you will be selected for certain tournaments as well as whether you will be seeded in those events (for players just starting on the ITF circuit, PPR is useful there as well). There’s a great website called MyTennisNetwork that allows you to search for tournaments and view the USTA rankings of players who have entered each tournament so you can tell if your ranking will earn you a spot in the draw and/or a seeding. I highly recommend this site for anyone new to tournaments as a way to keep track of entry deadlines and to search for the appropriate level tournaments in your area.

Once a player is entrenched in the junior competition structure and has played close to 30 matches, UTR becomes very valuable as a way to find appropriate tournaments (you can copy and paste the entry list from USTA and ITF tournaments into UTR to determine where your player falls in the field) and practice partners. The free account provides enough basic information to get started. But, for those juniors hoping to play college tennis, a Premium or Premium Plus Account is definitely worth the small cost. UTR is incredibly helpful in choosing schools to contact since you can pull up the UTRs of all the players on a particular team or even a particular conference to figure out whether you would be a desirable addition to the team.UTR

TRN typically starts rating and ranking players beginning in their 6th grade year, so it’s good to go ahead and set up a free account once you hit that point in school. As you enter your sophomore or junior year of high school, it may be worthwhile to sign up for a Recruiting Advantage Account so you can see which college coaches are viewing your profile, add more details like photos and videos, and update your GPA and test scores (click here to find out what college coaches can see on TRN). For a complete description of the various features available on TRN, click here.

Speaking of college coaches, I have heard from many of them that they are using all three of these indicators – USTA, TRN, and UTR – in addition to other more subjective factors when deciding whether or not to recruit a particular player.

Rather than worrying too much about ratings and rankings, a junior player’s best approach is to continue working on his/her game, playing matches against a variety of opponents, and – if college tennis is the goal – making sure to have a high enough GPA and SAT/ACT score to ensure admission into a desirable school. Stressing out over the incremental changes that may occur week to week doesn’t serve anyone. College coaches look at trends – are a player’s ratings and rankings moving up or down over time? – and tend to ignore little hiccups that may show up if a player has a bad week or two on the courts. While it’s nice to have a current picture of where you stand against your peers, I sometimes think the once-per-year rankings we had when I was playing juniors was a saner approach to the game. Regardless, these indicators are here to stay, so please use them in the manner in which they’re intended: to help you reach your highest potential as you go through the Junior Tennis Journey.

33 thoughts on “How To Use Ratings & Rankings”

  1. How do you copy and paste USTA or ITF entry lists into UTR to see where one stands – I can’t see that functionality

  2. Where does one find Competition Analytics? Is it a part of the Premium Plus package that seems to focus on the college game?

  3. One great thing about TRN is how frequently they update. On Tuesday of each week, the results through the past Sunday are already on TRN. UTR can take 2-4 weeks for results to show up. I dont think UTR loads results until an entire tournament is finished. However TRN has results before entire tournament is finished, e.g. KZoo was a long tourney, but results from the first Sat and Sun were on TRN the next Tues.

    Both systems are valuable but will differ as TRN will have a year of results and UTR will have a couple months of results depending on how many matches a player plays. I have seen more fluctuation with UTR. For example, some players play better in the summer because they train more; others may play worse if they are not used to the heat. Since UTR does not cover a whole year, a player’s ranking could go up, then down and back up based on seasonal fluctuations. TRN shows trends. There is less up and down fluctuation. I think it is easy for a coach to see if a player is improving or not over time on TRN. It is less obvious on UTR. While only 30 matches are counted towards the rating, results beyond the 30 matches are easily viewed as the screen shows as matches for the current year. I am glad players have access to both.
    USTA PPR is only valuable for getting in tournaments. It is not a good predictor of who will win a match. The USTA PPR is a OK predictor within sections. However the USTA national PPR is not a good predictor as a player may be ranked in the 200-300s due to limited national play and still beat a top 100 USTA player when they do go to national tournaments.

  4. Another important point not mentioned is only USTA PPR includes doubles in its rankings. Now that doubles points are equal to 25% of singles points, a good dubs player who reaches the semifinals or finals of major level 1 or 2 sectional tournament will receive doubles points which converted to singles points that could be more than winning a mid level sectional singles tournament. While it is easy for coaches to view singles results, it is difficult for them to easily view doubles results.

  5. “I am glad players have access to both.” – Diane Terry

    Totally agree. The more the merrier – especially since these systems are solid.

    There are lots of rankings available for, say, college football and college basketball. Why not for junior tennis? Having multiple rankings available means that there are more tools available for families and coaches. And it is impossible to “game” all the systems simultaneously.

  6. Great article! Thanks for the info. I was wondering about the domino effect on UTR. When lets say a player has a competitive match with a 12, but then that player gets downgraded to 11, it seems to carry on on all the players he and his opponent played, even though at the time of the match his rating was higher. Of course this also has a positive effect if a player is upgraded, so it can be both good and bad.

  7. Em, I also have noticed the domino effect: many players my son had played the first 5 months of the year were downgraded .2-1.0 on UTR in June or July, with the average downgrade .3 or .4. I think it is atypical that a player would drop a whole level, e.g. 12 to 11 in a short period though I can think of two players who dropped .8-1.0 in 6 weeks after dropping best results from spring and underperforming in 2 summer tournaments. If you have the free versions of UTR, you are not seeing decimals places. The drop from 12 to 11 which seems drastic, might just be a drop from 11.55 to 11.45.

    I think the most of the summer downward adjustment was the result of crossplay with college players or other sections during the summer. Some players who were downgraded in UTR actually slightly increased their TRN ratings during the same period. Another reason for the fluctuation could be Clay tournaments May-early Sept. Since UTR counts the most recent 30 matches, 25%+ of some player’s summer matches may have been on clay; If those players practice infrequently on clay, they would be slightly less competitive on that surface, their summer win % may be slightly lower, and their UTR would have dropped. It would be interesting to see if Florida national level players as a whole went up on UTR during the summer since they are strong on clay.

    In some ways, these adjustments are a reality check. Players in the toughest sections may be underranked during the school year if they play sectional tournaments and National Selections in their own section. The national summer tournaments that host all sections provide the crossplay to tweak the systems and make them more accurate. If whole sections were overranked, then most players in those sections will see a slight drop in their UTR. Since the nationals returned to the 192 draws this year, I think this fall’s ratings/rankings are probably better than last fall.

  8. From a prominent D1 coach..”I only use TRN to find out where the kid is from.” I have said this over and over…UTR is D1 coaches first “go to” in regards to looking at a potential recruit… TRN a distant 2nd and USTA a very distant 3rd.

  9. “Gaming the rankings” as a junior never, ever works. At some point the high school running back who does end runs and scores has to learn to turn upfield and gain yards the hard way.

  10. I do wish UTR would update more often. A great feature of UTR is the competitive match feature comparing to foreign ITF players. How does that work on TRN, if lets say your player loses to “not rated” player but ranked, let say, top 800 ITF?

  11. sasamm, I got a newsletter from TRN in June that says over 800 coaches subscribe to their coaching services. Why would they subscribe if all they use TRN for is to find out where a kid is from? I can find that out without even logging in. What prominent D1 coach said that?

  12. Can you back up this claim? I went back in my email archive and dug up the June newsletter from TRN (mentioned in my comment below). This is pasted directly from their email:

    “Many of these college coaches use TennisRecruiting.net as a planning
    tool to explore players. How many coaches? Let’s take a look…

    More than 2000 college coaches use the Tennis Recruiting website. Of
    those college coaches, 873 have access to special information only for
    coaches (e.g., contact information, academic interests, custom rank
    lists). We can break down those 873 coaches further:

    – Both men’s and women’s programs: 391 men’s and 482 women’s programs

    – Across the country: 46 U.S. states and D.C., including 55 programs
    from New York, 52 each from Massachusetts, 51 from California,
    48 from North Carolina, 47 from Texas, 46 from Pennsylvania, 43
    from Ohio, and 41 from Virginia.

    – All levels: 375 come from NCAA D-I programs, 336 from D-III, 109
    from D-II, 40 from NAIA, and 13 from Junior Colleges

    – Highest level: Of the 131 programs in the so-called “high major
    conferences” – ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Ivy, PAC-12, and SEC –
    124 (i.e., more than 94%) have Coaching Advantage.”

    Is TRN just making this stuff up? Is the “prominent D1 coach” you mention from one of the major conferences? If so it seems like he/she is in the very small minority (6%) that don’t use their service.

  13. Every system can be gamed and all three can be gamed at the same time. Anyone that says it can’t be done hasn’t thought thru long enough. Sure it’s more challenging when the algorithm is proprietary, but folks figure it out and share information. It’s also easier if you have the means and no school/work restrictions. Just a matter of time to figure it out.

    I agree with the comment that it isn’t worth gaming the system and you are better off working on your game, grades and test scores. And finally, just striving to be a good person that folks want to coach and be teammates with. But when players receive benefits from gaming the system, it’s hard for the ‘true believers’ to stay the course.

    There was a player on TRN last year that held the #1 spot in their class for 12 months without playing a match in 12 months. I don’t think it right to identify a kid in public so I’ll be vague… After losing that position, this player started playing events again. The player is actually a very good player, but when they played they often defaulted or withdrew esp when losing. Did that rating help the player in their recruiting? The top school that signed that player may have seen enough, but hard to say that it hurt being #1. Nevertheless, a kid that competes a lot takes a lot more risk on TRN than one that doesn’t. And unfortunately, that leads to the bad behavior of ducking. Whether you lucky enough to duck a whole year or you duck ‘risky’ backdraw matches, both are bad behaviors encouraged from fear of a loss and that’s a problem with any computerized rating system that penalizes loss or scoring. Never was I more shocked when I heard a parent say that a backdraw match was a bad TRN match and they wouldn’t have their kid play it.
    There are enough questions about how, when and why UTR ratings move that folks are confused about it. But it’s a great bridge of age divisions and systems which no other system has, yet.
    Soon folks will figure out the weighting of scoring how that impacts their rating. When tactical cheating can turn a decisive loss into a competitive loss, we’ll see those that do more of that. Also ‘record flushing’ will be common place along with backdraw withdraws/defaults.
    PPR has it’s points chasing issue which can be improved with a balanced bonus points vs points per round allotment. Too much credit can’t be awarded for getting thru rounds vs the quality of opponent you beat. It’s harder to chase points when both are more of an equal factor. But at the end of the day, I know if I compete and win, I can predict my ranking reward. I also know that I’m not penalized for putting it on the line and competing.

    Ultimately, all three systems have pros and cons and all can be improved.

  14. I have to agree with most of the points n the previous post. There is a kid who hasn’t played a single match since August of last year yet he is a blue chip and is a year older than most freshman. These I know for a fact. How is that possible? I know another kid, injured, who was a 4 star recruit and his stars dropped at the next rating period when not playing. Maybe TRN can shed some light on this?

  15. In response to K Minor (#20)…

    The Tennis Recruiting rankings are based on the last 12 months worth of data. If a player hasn’t played a match in 12 months, he or she will not be ranked. It is possible that if you, say, win Kalamazoo and then stop playing junior tennis, you could have a #1 ranking on our site for 12 months after you stop playing, but 53 weeks later you will disappear off the lists.

    Ducking a match in a back draw can only come from a misunderstanding of our system. A back draw match provides you opportunities to play and teach our system how good you are. If you are simply concerned about your ranking in our system, stopping play after a main draw loss if VERY naive. Every win you pick up in the back draw serves to soften the blow of the main draw loss.

  16. In response to Em (#21)…

    The Tennis Recruiting Top Prospect Ratings (i.e., “the stars”) are produced twice a year in the fall and in the spring. We have a caveat for Blue Chips in our system. If you have been ranked in the top 10 any time in the 6 months prior to the rating you will be a Blue Chip. Using the same example as in my previous post, if a player wins Kalamazoo and stops playing, he or she will be a Blue Chip in the subsequent Fall and Spring ratings.

    If an injured player stops playing and his best tournaments roll off, then his ranking will probably go down. Also when coming back from injury if he loses to players that he would not normally lose to, then this too can effect his ranking. Again, our star ratings are a by-product of the ranking, so this is the only thing that would explain the star rating for this player dropping.

    We agree that any system can be gamed. Saying otherwise is simply not true. We have always simply suggested that gaming ALL of the systems is complicated. If you prefer to game the system by not playing tennis, we feel that you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Coaches notice this, and the long run harm you are doing to your development is just not worth it.

  17. Sorry, but players drop out of backdraws numerous times to avoid another loss in the backdraw. They can make up for the “loss” in the next tournaments main draw rather than risk another loss.

    These players are obvious…The same players drop out of backdraws all the time. ..They are playing the TRN system… These players are definitely not avoiding the USTA points system.

  18. “The same players drop out of backdraws all the time. ..They are playing the TRN system… These players are definitely not avoiding the USTA points system.” – sasamm

    This makes little sense to me. In TRN, all matches count the same. By this logic, players should avoid main draw matches as well. If anything, since there are very few points available in the back draw in USTA PPR, there is no incentive there to play in these matches.

    – Dallas

  19. The point of playing back draw matches should be to improve your game. Every match is a great opportunity to improve. Kids who avoid back tough matches, or worry to much about points will be exposed. As a parent could choose to default back draw to get out of town occasionally, but doubles and back draws are a great way to get match practice.

  20. While I agree wholeheartedly with Dallas and Alex, there can be valid reasons for dropping out of the backdraw. If the player feels that something is not quite right physically, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If the player has a heavy schedule, with events every weekend, they would need additional recovery time. If the backdraw is for a lower level event, and just ahead of a major like an L1, the risk/reward is skewed and a judgement call must be made. If you flew to the event, it can mean several hundred dollars per ticket to change flights, so leaving early is prudent financial policy.

    All that being said, there are certainly players who think the backdraw is beneath them. And parents who want to protect their player (really to protect the parent) from an embarrassing loss to a “loser” in the backdraw. I cannot stand that attitude. My player also hated to be in the backdraw, but it was because she wanted so badly to win the event. Not because she thought she was better than others.

    I also feel that if you consent to play doubles, you just waived your right to leave the event. I have spoken to friends who’s child’s partner simply pulled out and left after losing in singles. In two instances, they didn’t bother informing the tournament, or their partner. In one case the partner was also out of singles and had booked an additional hotel night to play doubles. Imagine their anger when they found out the “partner” had left the day before.

    I am told endlessly that college coaches take a dim view of chronic backdraw avoidance. Yet those kids all seem to get into great schools anyway. I’d love to hear a coach relate a story of how they ignored a player’s “backdraw flu” habits, in favor of a great win/loss record, and the bad attitude then manifested in the team dynamic. My guess is that the coach figures that they can change the player once they get them under their wing. Does that work?

  21. In the old days the rankings were based on direct wins, not based on points. Backdraws were a great way to get more matches, and the win counted just as much in backdraw as maindraw. There were definitely weaknesses with that ranking system as well, but I don’t remember anyone defaulting from backdraw. We also did not have 3rd set super breaker, although I think that is a great idea to make doubles and backdraw matches more time efficient

  22. havent been on this thread for awhile. but Dallas is dead wrong about backdraws and the TRN system. “All matches count the same” is probably a true statement but if the backdraws have only 2 star 3 star or 4 star players left. please explain how a 5 star player can benefit from playing a backdraw.

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