Tennis is a competitive sport that is most enjoyable when players of a similar skill level play against each other.
This is one reason why the National Tennis Rating Program, or NTRP, was developed in 1978. This straightforward rating system identifies and describes general characteristics of tennis abilities in order to make it easier to pair tennis players together with roughly the same skill level for a competitive match.
To help you better understand tennis ratings and the NTRP, we will take a look at how the system functions. We’ll also explain how you can assign a rating to yourself in accordance with the general outlines for NTRP rating categories.
Why is the NTRP Useful?
Before the NTRP was developed by the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), tennis players generally assigned themselves one of three basic skill categories – beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Beyond that, players could be classified as professionals.
While these basic categories were somewhat useful, they were also fairly vague.
Given how important it is in USTA league play for the individuals and teams to have relatively equal skills, it was reasoned that an official rating system would be useful.
Not only does matching players together who have a similar amount of experience and skill make the match more enjoyable for everyone involved, it is important for skill progression.
If you want to become a better player, you should be practicing with and playing against players who have a similar, or slightly greater level of skill.
Getting blown off the court by someone with super dependable strokes when consistency isn’t quite your thing isn’t fun or productive for either player.
How Does the NTRP System Work?
Unlike rankings that you see applied to professional tennis players, the NTRP rating system is a tool that indicates a particular player’s current playing ability.
It does not have to be earned through tournament play or be awarded by a professional official. Instead, it is a set of criteria to measure player’s abilities against to get a rough idea of their skill level.
Ratings can be used for seeding players in amateur tennis tournaments and friendly competitions.
There are two main types of ratings within the NTRP system: the Junior National Tennis Rating Program (Junior NTRP) and the general NTRP, which is for adult tennis players.
Adult National Tennis Rating Program
NTRP ratings are used by adult players, as well as junior players who are competing in adult tournaments.
The ratings are divided into levels between 1.0 and 7.0. Ratings increase in 0.5 increments.
A player with a 1.5 NTRP rating is very new to the sport of tennis. The primary focus is on keeping the ball in play. Strategy and ball placement aren’t yet considered.
A 3.0-rated tennis player would be pretty consistent when hitting groundstrokes with some pace, but their arsenal of tools is limited. While they could confidently keep the ball in play, they might struggle with directional control and generating significant power.
A 5.0 player would have solid shot anticipation and directional control. They would have enough talent to regularly force their opponent to make mistakes (forced errors). Their repertoire of shot selection would include approach shots, lobs, drop shots, half volleys, and overhead smashes. They might be known for aggressive net play as well as be able to serve with pace and accuracy without fear of extensive double faults. A player with a 5.0 ranking is solid and quite a competitor.
As you would expect, a 7.0-rated player would be considered a professional tennis player – one who makes a living from playing the sport.
A comprehensive and detailed breakdown of the various NTRP ratings can be found by exploring the UTSA’s Adult NTRP Ratings Questions and Answers Guide. For those who are curious about their own rating, a detailed breakdown of the various adult NTRP ratings can be found here.
As the name implies, the Junior NTRP is used to ‘grade’ junior players according to their age, skill level, and tennis experience.
Junior NTRP ratings are assigned between level 2.0 and 7.0.
The ratings move up in tenths, meaning 2.0 is the lowest ranking and 2.1 is one rating better. As a young player advances, their rating would move up from 2.1, to 2.2, to 2.3, and so on.
The ratings are generated once the junior player has played four matches against another rated player. After this has occurred, their rating is recalculated and updated.
As you would expect, the more frequently a young tennis player plays against other rated opponents, the more accurate their rating is going to be.
Junior Self Rating
As is the case with the adult NTRP ratings, players can rate themselves.
When self-rating, the player consults a basic skill-level guide, which moves up from 1.0 to 7.0.
Since self-rating players are more likely to be new to the sport, they can be assigned a rating below 2.0, which is where the official rating system starts.
In the self-rating system, a 1.0 is someone playing tennis for the first time.
A 3.5 would refer to a player who has a decent amount of experience and possesses the ability to control the ball directionally with their groundstrokes and deliver relatively accurate serves.
As you would expect, a 7.0 is likely a world-class junior player who is officially ranked and playing lots of tournaments.
Having an idea of your rating will help you find players of a similar skill level for weekend fun or to join a USTA league. For many, joining an adult league is are a great way to hone their skills, get time on the court, and make friends.
Remember, your main opponent when you play tennis is always yourself. Strive to be a better player today than you were yesterday!
Focus on sound footwork, any obvious stroke weaknesses and enjoy yourself. Tennis is fun. Keep playing!