Now let’s talk about how the USTA ranking system works. This is where things can get a little bit tricky! First of all, rankings are all based on points (as opposed to whom you beat and whom you lost to), and points are accumulated by winning tournament matches. And different levels of tournaments afford different numbers of points. So, at first glance it would seem that the child who plays the most tournaments and wins the most matches would have the highest ranking, right? Nope!
USTA only looks at the child’s top 6 singles tournament results (100% of total points) PLUS his top 3 doubles tournament results (15% of total points) in order to formulate his ranking. And, a child can have a state, sectional, and national ranking that all look very different from one another based on which types of tournaments he plays. The ranking points earned are based on how far the child gets in that particular tournament NOT how many main draw vs. back draw matches he wins. A child who loses in the first round of the main draw then gets to the semifinals of the back draw will get more ranking points than the child who wins two matches in the main draw but then loses in the quarterfinals of the back draw.[Added January 2014] Some sections also have Bonus Points available for significant wins (over highly-ranked opponents). In the Southern section, a player is awarded bonus points on a sliding scale based on the ranking of his opponent, regardless of whether the opponent is ranked higher or lower. For example, a win over a player in the top 10 in the section is worth 150 bonus ranking points.
The different USTA states and sections post their own Points Per Round charts on their respective websites. Click here to see the one for the Southern section.
Using a hypothetical 12 year old boy in the Southern Section as an example, here’s how a ranking would be calculated:
Tournament 1: Southern Level 5 with a 128 draw, Johnny wins 2 rounds of singles in the main draw, 2 rounds in the back draw (Feed-In Consolation or FIC), losing in the FIC quarterfinals for a total of 18 points.
Tournament 2: Southern Level 5 with a 32 draw, Johnny loses in the first round of singles in the main draw but wins the back draw. He also wins the back draw of the doubles. His total for this tournament is 51 – 44 points for the singles and 7 points (15% of 44) for the doubles.
Tournament 3: Southern Level 4 with a 32 draw, Johnny wins one round in the main draw singles then loses his first back draw match for a total of 53 points.
Tournament 4: Southern Level 4 with a 32 draw, Johnny loses in the first round singles but wins 2 rounds in the back draw. He gets to the semifinals in doubles. His total is 69 – 53 for the singles and 16 for the doubles.
Tournament 5: Southern Level 3 with a 64 draw, Johnny loses in the first round singles, loses in the first round back draw, and gets to the quarterfinals in the doubles for a point total of 21 (15% of 140).
Tournament 6: Southern Level 3 with a 64 draw, Johnny gets to the semifinals (3rd place) of the main draw in singles and the round of 16 in the doubles. Because it’s his 4th doubles tournament and he didn’t do as well as in previous tournaments, he’ll get no points for the doubles. However, he will get 160 points for the singles.
Tournament 7: Southern Level 4 with a 32 draw, Johnny gets to the semifinals (4th place) of the main draw for a total of 105 points.
After these seven tournaments – the top 6 of which count for singles and the top 3 of which count for doubles – Johnny has 477 points. To see his ranking, he would go to the USTA’s ranking website, use the drop-down box to find his section (in this case, Southern), then use the next drop-down box to find his age division. According to the November 1, 2011, rankings, he would be ranked 201 in the South.
Another thing to consider is having your child “play up” in the next age group as he starts to have success in his own age group and gets closer to that official aging up date. If he does play up, then any ranking points he gets will apply to both his current age group as well as the older age group, helping him establish a ranking before he ages up.
As you’ve probably already figured out by now, the higher level tournament matches are worth significantly more points that the lower level ones. So, once your child has proven himself at the lower levels, it’s definitely worthwhile in terms of building his ranking to attempt the higher level tournaments. That said, you always need to weigh the potential financial and time cost of travel and higher entry fees when making the leap to the next level. As I said in my last post (Help! My kid wants to play in a tournament!), first be the best in your house, then the best on your block, THEN the best in your neighborhood!