Age and NTRP ratings

This is the question: is a 65-year-old 4.5 tennis player the same as a 35-year-old 4.5 player?

According to one tennis website, their answer is:

Q. How does age enter into the NTRP ratings?

A. The NTRP is not based on age divisions. All players of the same gender, regardless of age, should be used as reference points in determining player ratings. After choosing a rating, players should ask themselves: “Can I play competitively against any age player of my gender who is rated at the same level that I have rated myself?”

According to our local USTA rep, age only accounts for a .1 difference in someone’s ranking!

The weakness in the rating system is that it only deals with stroke skill and mental abilities (see the 4.5 description below). But two critical factors it does NOT consider are: foot speed and conditioning – both of which can become accentuated as the age difference between opponents increases.

But even putting age aside for a second, if you put two “4.5 level players” on a singles court, and one is fast and in great shape – while the other is 30 pounds overweight and won’t last more than one good set. They are NOT equal.

While there are surely age-exceptions (e.g. Martina Navratilova), no matter how good a shape a 65-year-old thinks he is (me included), put him on the court with a 4.5, 35-year-old who is in reasonable shape… stroke for stroke they may be equal; but the younger guy will get to more balls, will get there in more time to better set-up for the shot, and will last longer.

So, I think the rating system needs to take speed and conditioning into the rating and/or there has to be an age distinction that “discounts” the senior’s ranking.

4.5 Definition

  • FOREHAND: Very dependable; uses speed and spin effectively; controls depth well; tends to overhit on difficult shots; offensive on moderate shots
  • BACKHAND: Can control direction and depth but may break down under pressure; can hit power on moderate shots
  • SERVE/RETURN OF SERVE: Aggressive serving with limited double faults; uses power and spin; developing offense; on second serve frequently hits with good depth and placement; frequently hits aggressive service returns; can take pace off with moderate success in doubles
  • VOLLEY: Can handle a mixed sequence of volleys; good footwork; has depth and directional control on BH; developing touch; most common error is still overhitting
  • SPECIAL SHOTS: Approach shots hit with good depth and control; can consistently hit volleys and overheads to end the point; frequently hits aggressive service returns
  • PLAYING STYLE: More intentional variety in game; is hitting with more pace; covers up weaknesses well; beginning to vary game plan according to opponent; aggressive net play is common in doubles; good anticipation; beginning to handle pace

9 thoughts on “Age and NTRP ratings

  1. It’s fun and challenging to try to “keep up” with the younger guys(20s/30s, but it can be quite a challenge due to what you stated-foot speed and overall shape(condition). Trying to adjust for both rating and age might be a little problematic however.

  2. I agree 100% that a 65 year old player is at a disadvantage with a much younger player with the same rating. The one thing you don’t mention is experience and some 65 year olds may have had 40-50 years of competitive experience as contrasted with less for the younger player which gives the older player a mental advantage. BUT I played in an adult doubles league this summer against a team of 25 year olds — not only were they excellent players but one had been competing in tournaments since the age of 15 and consequently made few mental errors. I guess this is why we have senior and super senior leagues and age category tournaments. On the bright side, Florida’s 75 year old King Van Nostrand would probably beat the pants off most 4.5 45 year-olds!

  3. the difference between the younger and older 4.5 should not be .1. it should be greater, because the younger 4.5 has a big advantage. when you compete you may have game plan A (maybe serve and volley), if that doesn’t work, game plan B (something else). well, the younger 4.5 has an advantage that the older 4.5 doesn’t have, a game plan C, (keep his opponent out there as long as he can, make the points go as long as he can). the older 4.5 doesn’t have this option, and believe me, it’s a big disadvantage.
    when i’m playing someone older than me (and it may just be a few years), it always gives me confidence when i know that i can always turn to plan C. many times, many times, it’s the difference between winning and losing.

  4. A 65 year old 4.5 senior player MIGHT be competitive against a 4.0 younger player.
    I would BET on the 4.0 younger player especially in singles. Would be closer in doubles tho’

  5. As a 68 yr. old 4.5 player playing against a 38 yr. old 4.5 player with equal talents, there is no way it will be a fair match because of the speed and strength of the younger player and because he was taught to play a different game.

  6. As a senior player, we are kidding ourselves if we think a 4.5 senior is the same as a younger 4.5 player. To add more controversy, how about a young 4.5 guy playing a 4.5 woman?? Again, no contest.

    Bob – Good point!  I believe the common wisdom is that a 4.5 woman is equal to a 4.0 man.  Maybe that should be the same for the age difference?  george

  7. George, I know we have had this conversation before, but unless I’m missing something, the highest NTRP rating a senior player (61 & over) can have is 4.0 unless you happen to be a World Class Player, i.e. ranked in the top 400 in the world. I’ll send you the published USTA chart via email.

  8. Bruce – I remember our conversation and, in fact, had saved the grid you talked about. But when I look at the age vs. ranking, I do not come to the same conclusion. Perhaps our local USTA rep, Linda Kleitch will comment on it when she responds.

    For anyone who is interested, copy and paste this link to see the chart:

  9. Gentlemen, I agree with some of your comments; however, I would like to point out that within the NTRP rating system, we offer adult, senior, and super senior leagues which are AGE DEFINED. Should a 60 plus player CHOOSE to play in the adult leagues who are 19 (to be 18 in 2010 league year), that is their choice and, hopefully, your experience will assist you in your play although there, quite frankly, is no comparison, one on one; the youngster may not do the right thing with the ball when he gets there but what is normally a winning shot against players of your own age group now becomes something that can be run down and you have lost the point. To state that a 4.5 twenty year old is the same as a sixty year old 4.5 player is absurd due to footwork and handwork coordination which goes along with the aging process.

    The USTA is striving to make the system better although, since the computerized system was put into play six years ago, it is working better than we ever imagined it would. It is not perfect and probably will never be, but it is better than anything that we have ever had. We will strive to make it better and better.

    So, if you want equality, I suggest you play in your own age defined leagues or, for those of you with that competitive spirit that wants to show the youngsters a thing or two, go for it. That is your decision and one that the USTA will never confront by saying “Why don’t you play with your own age group?”

    One more comment that I hear from time to time is that we should bring back verifiers; that is not going to happen. When I took over that job a hundred years ago (just a little twisted humor), I evaluated every on court verification that had taken place since the USTA leagues put that system in place in Naples; 99.2% of the players received the rating that they requested due to cronyism and a lack of doing the job properly; as a former on court verifier, I feel that I can evaluate properly. My first week on the job, I disqualified fourteen players at the on court rated level of 4.5……..they all were former tour players, all had played in Davis Cup representing their various countries, etc……they were not 4.5 players then and they will never be 4.5 players in our system. Of course, we want them to play, but it has to be at the proper stated level of play…….we develop tennis in a fair and competive way.

    We have the largest number of players at the senior and super senior players in the entire state and some have suggested in the entire Nation; I have not had the time to verify that but what I would like to say is that we have the greatest number of wonderful players who are healthy, some not so, and continue to play because of the love of the game and I thank you for that; that is what makes my job so rewarding.

    I love my job and I love all of you. We, because we are Americans, can agree and disagree, but tennis is truly the sport of a lifetime. Thank you for playing. Play tennis, make friends, have fun and winning is a bonus.

    Linda Kleitch
    Head Local Leagues Coordinator
    USTA Naples

    Linda – thank you very much for the thoughtful reply.  We seniors look forward to the time when the computers can distinguish age and ratings.  See you when i am next “on the wall.”

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