Friday, May 24, 2013

The easiest way to play tennis at USTA Nationals - Live in Hawaii

I've been doing some research for a team headed to play at USTA Nationals later this year on the other teams that will be there and have been making some perhaps intuitive but interesting observations.

As background, the USTA is divided into 17 sections, each section covering a certain area, the USTA establishing the boundaries to try to balance things like geographic size and population.

As you'd expect, out west we have fewer sections each covering a larger area, 5 for about 40% of the country: Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Southern California, Southwest, and Intermountain.  In the more populous east and south there are 4 covering about 10% of the country: New England, Eastern, Middle States, Mid-Atlantic.  Then in the south there are 2: Southern and Florida.  The balance of the contiguous U.S. is in the middle of the country with 4: Mid-West, Northern, Missouri Valley, and Texas.  Then you have the "island" sections of Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Each section is further broken down into districts and districts into areas.  But not every section has as many districts and some districts are an area unto themselves, so some sections are far simpler than others.

The path to getting to Nationals starts in local league play where teams are often in sub-flights that play round robin, the sub-flight winner (and sometimes 2nd place team too) advancing to local playoffs where they play against the best from the other sub-flights.  A local winner then may go to regionals where the winner goes to districts to play against the other areas within the district, the district winner going on to sectionals.  It is the champion from a section that advances to Nationals.

Now some sections don't have as many steps, which isn't a surprise.  In the PNW our local playoff winner is in effect the district winner and goes straight to sectionals.  But in the east I've seen every step described above used.  And the format at each stage varies too, some being just a bracket, others just round robin, and some a combination.

What was surprising as I looked at some smaller sections is that the path can be much shorter than the PNW example above.  For example, I discovered a team from Hawaii that played 8 matches in their local league sub-flight and went straight to Nationals!  Apparently there was only one sub-flight in their area, in Hawaii there is only one area per district, and no other district fielded a team at their level.  Isn't it enough that they have great weather and a beautiful island environment, but they get to go to Nationals playing only 8 local league matches too?