USTA NTRP System Guidelines and Explanation: What is your rating?

With so many tennis rating systems out there, it can get confusing even for the most heavily invested tennis fans. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This article will explain everything you need to know about the USTA’s NTRP (National Tennis Ratings Program) rating system. 

The USTA uses NTRP to categorize players in order to strive for fairness in competition. This is a classification system that generally describes a player’s on-court abilities. NTRP is most popular among adults, but it does exist for juniors as well. It was designed so that any tennis player can be placed somewhere on the scale. The system starts at 1.5 and goes all the way up to 7.0, ranging from “basic beginner” to a touring professional. Most tournaments within the USTA system will be held between 2.5 and 5.5. This is because any player lower than 2.5 likely isn’t ready for tournaments, and any player higher than 5.5 is likely playing in a different class such as “men’s opens” or professional tournaments.

Here is what their ratings scale looks like from bottom to top:

1.5Working on getting the ball in the court. Limited understanding of technique.
2.0Able to find the court when the ball is fed in their strike zone, but cannot sustain a rally with another player yet. 
2.5Can sustain a slow rally with another player at a similar level. Movement is inefficient, but if the ball is hit generally at them they will be able to make fair contact with the ball. 
3.0Comfortable with a medium paced rally down the middle, especially with balls hit to their strengths. Can consistently put the ball in the court, but not to specific spots on the court with intent. Struggles with balls out of their strike zone and movement to balls far from them. 
3.5Able to consistently direct their ball to general locations. For example, this player often knows how to control their ball down the line or crosscourt, but can’t quite intentionally place the ball deep or short yet. 
4.0Able to control the ball sufficiently side to side and deep or short in moderately paced rallies. From the baseline, this player generally feels that they can be consistent from both their forehand and backhand side. Many players at this level lose points due to impatience, as they are consistent enough to stay in the point but get overly eager to finish it. 
4.5Able to apply different spins and paces at will based on strategy. Generally has become more comfortable with movement and can move to balls and make contact in their strike zone simultaneously. Strategy becomes more of a factor in matches.
5.0Begins to anticipate where the next ball will be, as the game has now become a bit faster. Regularly able to finish points when given a weak ball. Has found their identity as a player, constructing points around their own strengths and weaknesses. 
5.5Has developed pace and consistency as a major weapon. Can typically rely on their normal aggression level in the highest pressure situations.
6.0-7.0This is a large range, but it is hard to determine where players in this range fall to this scale. These players don’t use this rating system in their tournaments, they use national and sectional rankings. Many of these players compete at the collegiate level, national men’s level, or professional level.  

For a more in depth explanation of these levels, see the USTA’s in depth flyer on that here.

Why is it used?

Many tournaments use this scale to determine who should be playing in which draws. For example, a club may hold a tournament and have one draw strictly for 3.0 players and another draw for 4.5 players. This way players can be more sure that they will play competitive matches. Some draws, due to lack of entries, will be combined as a 3.0-3.5 draw and so on. 

Many clubs also use this system outside of formal tournaments. For example, if a player who is new to the club looks for a Sunday morning match, this rating system can give them a better idea of who they should be playing with before they even hit a ball. Obviously it is imperfect, but works well for the most part. 

An example would be that a regular group of 4 is missing a person and trying to fill the last spot for their doubles game. The group can know that Tim, a man nobody has seen play before, is a good fit because he is a 4.0 and everyone else in the group is around that level. 

The difference between “rating” and “ranking”

Many tennis players get “ratings” and “rankings” confused. Here’s what you need to know.

A rating, such as NTRP, reflects a player’s level more generally. So something like, “Janet is a 3.5. She can get the ball moving and have some great rallies.” Ratings are usually used to put players on a scale that each player falls into, so multiple people can be rated the same thing at once.

A ranking will give a player an idea of where exactly they stack up against other people in an exact order. So something along the lines of, “Matt is ranked number 9 in the men’s 50+ division for Southern California. He has done well in his sectional tournaments.”  In a rankings list, no two players can be ranked the same number. For example, Federer and Djokovic can’t both be #1 in the world at the same time, just the same as Susan and Carol can’t both be ranked #11 in their section for the women’s +55 division.

Both rating and rankings put a number on level, but the main difference is rating is on a scale and rankings is on a list.  

Final Thoughts

The USTA NTRP system is a great way to get people playing matches at their level. The more competitive matches you can play, the more fun you will have and the more you can improve. 

I will say this, though: don’t take this rating too seriously. Too many club players out there let this rating define their game and they get too caught up in it. Relax a little and enjoy the game. If you are good enough to compete at the next level up, your results will show that with time. If you have goals to get better and move on, that is awesome too! But be sure to work on your game, compete hard, and have fun in the process.

If you have any questions about where you fit into this scale, reach out to us in the comments or on Instagram @mytennishq. We are always happy to help!

Austin Rapp

Hi there! My name is Austin Rapp and since I picked up a racket at age 8, I worked hard to improve my game. I was never the most talented junior, but I tried to learn the game to give myself an edge. I earned the privilege of playing at UCLA for 4 years, serving as team captain for my last 2. In my time there, I took advantage of the coaching and great talent around me to grow my knowledge of the game and became an All-American. I am currently playing professional tennis, ranked top 700 in singles and top 350 in doubles. Above all, my favorite tennis moments were hitting with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal at Indian Wells!

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