The USTA’s year-end ratings have been published, an announcement that provokes excitement, anxiety, or indifference among the weekend battlers who play League tennis.
Count me among the anxious. I invest the ratings with undue significance, interpreting them not just as a measure of my tennis abilities but, sadly, as a measure of my standing, even my value as a human being, among my tennis playing peers. Silly, yes. But I’m not alone, as some of the threads in this discussion about year-end ratings indicate.
Consider the comments of Relivingmytennisyouth. Are the hard work and practice paying off? The ratings provide an objective assessment. “After getting back into tennis (after a 33 year lay off), I was glad to be bumped up from 3.0 to 3.5,” this weekend warrior writes. “I put a lot of effort into this year with over 90 league and tournament matches.”
For me, the past year was a bust. I lost every single match. My passion for the game ebbed. Come Saturday morning, I had to drag myself out of bed and will myself to battle, still mentally and physically fatigued from the week’s labors. I wanted to win–it’s better than losing, after all–but I didn’t want to work for it. In most of my matches, I’d play a close first set, sometimes losing in a tiebreak, and then contemplate the challenge ahead of me. Two more sets of scrapping and grinding on the unforgiving asphalt. I couldn’t muster the fight.
I was certain that my dismal season meant that I’d be bumped down to 3.5 from 4.0, just two years after achieving that coveted rating. The hard work I’d put in over the past few years would be undone by one season’s psychological malaise and my attendant shortcomings on the court.
In most years, I would have been back at 3.5. This year, however, the USTA recalibrated the ratings. The action acknowledged what had long been obvious to anyone playing League Tennis. There was an awful lot of sandbagging going on.
Players who should have been chasing Roger Federer on the pro tour were instead battling heavyset middle-aged men with bad knees at 3.5, what the USTA considers an intermediate level of play. Coaches recruited these ringers, with their wicked kick serves, killer forehands, and bottomless reserves of mental toughness, in an effort to get to the national championships. At last, the USTA had had enough. At the end of 2009, the association bumped a large number of players to higher levels.
The recalibration kept my 4.0 rating, and my dignity, intact.
This winter, I’ve been working hard on my game, trying to develop more tolerance for long rallies and more spin and consistency in my first and second serves. Progress has been patchy, but I’ve got five months until league. This year will be my opportunity to prove that I belong at the rarefied 4.0 level, with or without USTA grade inflation.