USTA NTRP Rating FAQ

I get a lot of questions from folks I generate Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Reports for related to the USTA's NTRP rating system. Couple that with more questions I see in forums and just get via e-mail and I thought it would be useful to keep track of them in this FAQ. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions that are missing or comments on what is here.

Last updated 6/27/2017

Q1: What is the NTRP?
A: NTRP, or the National Tennis Rating Program, is a classification system intended to assign tennis players to levels such that matches between players at the same level will generally be competitive.

Q2: What are all the NTRP levels?
A: The USTA defines levels from 1.5 to 7.0 in 0.5 increments, a 1.5 being a beginner and a 7.0 being a touring pro. However, in USTA League play you will generally find flights at levels from 2.5 to 5.0.

Q3: How does one get an NTRP rating?
A: In general, players have their rating calculated at year-end based on their match results during the USTA year. Players that do not have a rating must self-rate to begin play in USTA leagues.

Q4: What is the USTA year?
A: The USTA year runs generally from November thru October, the exact start dates varying from year to year. The end of the year is usually the last week of Adult Nationals which are commonly played during the month of October.

Q5: When are year-end ratings released?
A: The USTA calculates the year-end ratings in November and they are typically released on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Despite the year-end date being around the end of October and the release date being the end of November or early December, the date for year-end ratings is 12/31/xx.

Q6: How does one get self-rated?
A: An individual self-rates by answering questions during the TennisLink registration process. General characterizations of each level can be found here. A self-rated player is considered to have an S rating.

Q7: Can't someone lie when answering the questions to self-rate too low and win all their matches?
A: Yes, this is possible, and unfortunately it is done by some deliberately to try to ensure they can win all their matches. But there are two safeguards to try and catch these individuals.

First, there are specific rules for high school and college players that establish minimum ratings. If these rules are believed to not have been followed by an individual, a grievance may be filed and if upheld the player may be disqualified and promoted to the appropriate level immediately.

Second, players results are monitored throughout the year and their dynamic NTRP rating is monitored and if it exceeds a certain threshold, they will generate strikes. Any player that generates three strikes in a USTA year will be disqualified at their level and promoted to the next one.

Q8: What is a dynamic NTRP rating?
A: The USTA calculates a dynamic rating for all players that play Adult league matches on a daily basis. This calculation is done using the score of each match and the dynamic ratings of the players involved in the match prior to the match. Dynamic ratings are calculated to the hundredth while year-end NTRP ratings are only published to the half point NTRP levels.

Q9: What dynamic rating does a self-rated player start with?
A: As a general rule, self-rated players have no starting rating. Their initial dynamic rating is calculated from their first few match results played against/with players that have a dynamic rating.

Q10: What is the dynamic rating range for each NTRP level?
A: The dynamic rating range for a given level is the half point below that level. For example, a player with a dynamic rating in the range of 3.51 to 4.00 would be considered an NTRP 4.0 level player.

Q11: What happens when a dynamic rating moves above or below the range for the player's NTRP level?
A: Generally, nothing until year-end. It is understood that a player may have good or bad matches and their dynamic rating may move significantly, even outside the range for their NTRP level. It is only at year-end that players may be bumped up or bumped down after year-end calculations are done. An exception is early start ratings (see Q26 below).

Q12: Is a player's dynamic rating at year-end the same as their NTRP rating?
A: Not exactly. If a player played in playoffs, those matches are given extra weight at year-end. Even if they didn't play in playoffs, how they did against players that did is factored in, and extra calculations are done at year-end to try to normalize the ratings across all of the sections so that a 3.5 in one section is similar to a 3.5 in another section. Additionally, some sections elect to include matches from other leagues or tournaments and these are incorporated in year-end calculations.

Q13: What types of year-end ratings are there?
A: Players that play at least three matches in Adult league play will receive a "Computer" or C rating. A special Benchmark or B rating designation is assigned to players that advance to and play in Adult league playoffs. Players that only played in Mixed leagues will be assigned a Mixed-exclusive or M rating. Players that only play tournaments are assigned a Tournament-exclusive or T rating.

Note: For 2014 year-end, players will no longer get the "B" designation in published ratings but the benchmark calculations are still done at year-end and "B" players can't appeal down but can now appeal up.

Q14: Are there other types of ratings?
A: As noted above, self-rated players are given the S rating, players that have appealed their rating are given an A rating, and players that have been DQ'd prior to year-end are given a dynamic designation or D rating. Some sections publish early start ratings (see below) which are given the E rating designation.

Q15: How can someone appeal their rating?
A: Players may appeal their rating in at least two ways. First, there are rules in place for players that are close to being bumped up or bumped down to appeal and automatically have it granted. See this blog post for an explanation. Second, players may file an appeal with their section for medical or potentially other reasons.

Q16: So back to this DQ thing, how does it work?
A: As self-rated (S), or players that have been granted an appeal down of their rating (A), play matches, their dynamic rating is calculated and compared against an NTRP level specific threshold. If their dynamic rating exceeds this threshold, they are given a strike. If they accumulate three strikes before the end of the USTA year, they will be disqualified and promoted to the next level.

Computer rated (C) or benchmark (B) rated players are not subject to strikes and disqualification like S and A rated players.  Players that hold a T or M rating must self-rate to join an Adult league team and thus are also subject to three strike DQ's.

Note that C rated players playing in an early start league that are bumped up at year-end may be allowed to continue playing at their lower level (depending on their seciton's rules), but will be DQ'd from playing at their level level if their rating reaches the "clearly above threshold".  For example, a 3.5 joins an early start 3.5 team but is bumped up to 4.0 at year-end.  At a section's discretion, the player can continue to play on the 3.5 team through Sectionals as long as their rating does not reach the "clearly above threshold".  See this blog entry for a scenario when teams can be significantly affected by this rule.

Note that while USTA documents state that C or B rated players are not subject to grievances either (see Q7 above), I have heard of at least one case where a grievance was allowed on a C rated player regarding their experience omission on their prior year self-rating.

Q17: What are the impacts of a disqualification?
A: In addition to the promotion to the next level, the prior matches won during the year may be reversed and considered losses which may impact team results and standings. Whether or not prior wins are reversed is up to each section.

Q18: So what are the strike thresholds?
A: The USTA does not publish the thresholds, but does say that an allowance is given for players to improve naturally during the year and not be DQ'd. Further, it is believed that the allowance is larger at lower NTRP levels than higher levels. This means that the threshold for a 3.0 to be DQ'd is higher than 3.00, perhaps as high as 3.3 with a 0.3 allowance, while the threshold for a 4.5 could be 4.7, just a 0.2 allowance.

Q19: So how can I find out my dynamic rating?
A: The USTA does not publish dynamic ratings, they only publish year-end ratings and in some sections early start ratings. They also don't disclose the details of the algorithm, but do describe it in general and I have done years of research to replicate the algorithm and calculate Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings. Those interested can get individual, team, or other custom reports from me.

Q20: Why doesn't the USTA disclose dynamic ratings?
A: The purpose of the NTRP system is to promote competitive play. However, the USTA also has National Championships at each level and naturally getting to and winning Nationals is an incentive. If ratings to the hundredth were released, some that are not concerned with fair play that knew they were close to being bumped down might throw a match or two in order to get bumped down and be able to form a team of "ringers" at the lower level to try to go to and win Nationals. So the USTA has elected to not publish the dynamic ratings so as to not enable this type of behavior or other nefarious manipulation of ratings.

Q21: So if you've figured it out, how does it work?
A: I'm not going to disclose everything I've researched, but the basic algorithm works like this. The computer looks at the dynamic ratings of the players prior to a match and based on them establishes an expected result. If one player/pairing does better than expected, their dynamic rating(s) will go up while the opponent's will go down. How much the actual result differs from the expected result determines how much the ratings change. There is also some averaging done with prior dynamic ratings so that your current rating incorporates the results from not just your most recent match, but several of your most recent matches.

Q22: Does it not matter if I win or lose then?
A: Strictly speaking, yes. It is possible that the expected result is that you will lose 6-2,6-2 and so if you lose 6-4,6-4, you did better than expected and your rating will go up. Similarly, you could be expected to win 6-2,6-2 and instead win 6-4,6-4 and your rating could go down.

Q23: I want to improve my rating, how can I do it?
A: Simply put, you need to do better than the computer expects you to do. The best way to do this is to practice, take lessons, and work on your game including improving your strokes, fitness, and mental aspects of the game.

Q24: But now you just sound like my local tennis pro trying to get me to pay for lessons, is there nothing else?
A: Ok, there are some things to consider when trying to "impress" the computer. The key thing is in doubles, it is not just your rating but the rating of your partner that matters, and of course the rating of your opponents. But most of us can't pick our opponents but do have some influence on who we play with.

It may seem counter intuitive, but in order to give yourself the largest opportunity to improve your rating, you actually want to play with a lower rated partner rather than a higher rated one. By doing this, the computer will expect less of you so there is more upside. Now, you still need to go out and do better than expected, so picking a partner that may be lower rated but is improving and perhaps playing "above their rating" would be ideal. Similarly, you'd want to avoid playing with a high rated player that is struggling or perhaps playing with a niggling injury as they would be playing "below their rating" and it may be hard to meet let alone exceed the computer's expectation.

Q24.1: I've heard I have to play up to get bumped up, is that true?
A: You don't have to play up to get bumped up, players get bumped up all the time playing just at level.  But you generally do give yourself more opportunity to improve your rating by playing up as your opponents should be rated higher.  This is not always the case of course, I've seen many cases where a player plays up but ends up facing another player playing up. Despite the match being at the higher level, this will affect the players' ratings no differently than if they were to play the same match at level.

But even if you play high rated opponents when you play up, you may not improve your rating as much as if you play at level. This is because the result matters. If you play up and get thumped, that match may rate lower than if you play at level and win. So if you get overwhelmed playing up, you could actually hurt your chances of improving your rating and should just play at level.

Q24.2: Ok, but is it better to play court 1 vs court 2 if I want to get bumped up?
A: Yes and no.  Strictly speaking, it doesn't matter what court you play on, your rating is determined by the ratings of the players in the match and the score of the match.  However, it is a common convention, but not required by USTA rules, that captains will play their stronger players on court 1, so if you play court 1 you will have more opportunity to improve your rating similar to how playing up gives you more opportunity.  But again, playing on court 1 against stronger players but losing badly isn't going to help your rating.  And if an opponent happens to play low rated players on court 1, your rating could go down if you don't win easily enough.

Q24.3: But what about leagues where it is points per position and court 1 counts for more points?
A: The points per position leagues are leagues where in an effort to prevent stacking courts or sacrificing a weak player on court 1, teams accumulate points during the regular season rather than teams wins/losses and winning court 1 results in more points for the team than winning court 2 or 3.

For example, a common format for points per position is that court 1 (singles or doubles) is 6 points, court 2 (singles or doubles) is 4 points, and court 3 doubles is 3 points.  So winning court 1 counts more for the team.

But this is just for team points and standings, to my knowledge, for NTRP rating purposes no court is given more or less weight.  But as noted above in Q24.2, this point system likely means higher rated players are on court 1 trying to get the extra points, so there may be more opportunity to improve your rating on court 1 for that reason.

Q25: I beat a Benchmark player, that will help my rating more, right?
A: Not exactly. As noted above, a B rated player achieves that designation for playing in the playoffs, which may make you think that means that B also means they are the "best" at their level. This is somewhat true, but there are exceptions and you cannot make the generalization that B means anything more than the player making playoffs in the previous year.

For example, say a 3.5 team goes to playoffs and they have a 12 man roster that includes a bunch of players with dynamic ratings above 3.3, but their bottom four players are at 3.2 or below. In local playoffs, they were confident of winning against a certain team and they played two of their "worst" players on court 3. At sectionals, they wrapped up their sub-flight early and could afford to play their other two "worst" players on court 3. Thus, all four of these players have played in playoffs and get a B rating, specifically a 3.5B, even though their dynamic ratings are below 3.2, in the lower part of the range for 3.5s. Further, their four best players get bumped up to 4.0 at year-end as a result of having ratings between 3.5 and 3.7, and they get the 4.0B ratings. Their other four players end up being 3.5B rated with ratings between 3.3 and 3.5.

The result is that all 12 players are B rated, but only four are actually the "best" at their level, the other eight are actually in the lower half of the range for their level. So one could actually make the argument that B rated players are generally weaker within their level than C rated players given this scenario which probably isn't that uncommon, especially if more of the players were to be bumped up.

Q26: You mentioned early start ratings before, what are these?
A: Some sections or district elect to start play in year X leagues in the prior year. This is usually done for court scheduling purposes. If you were to try and play 18 & over, 40 & over, 55 & over, 18 & over Mixed, 40 & over Mixed, etc. all at the same time, there simply wouldn't be enough courts. So for example in my section, we start our Mixed leagues in the Fall of the year before. These leagues are considered "Early Start" leagues.

Since these leagues are actually for the following year, it doesn't seem fair for a player who has improved and is going to be bumped up at year-end to get to play in this league at their old (lower) rating, so the section will publish early start ratings usually in the July or August timeframe that will be used for the early start leagues. The early start ratings are based on the current dynamic rating and can be considered a good indication of if a player will be bumped up or down. For example, a 3.5 may have a really good year in their Spring Adult league and get their dynamic rating above 3.50. They would get an early start rating of 4.0 and have to play in the Mixed league as a 4.0 rather than a 3.5 even though year-end ratings haven't come out yet.

See Q37 below for a discussion of the impact of an early start rating on existing leagues or tournaments.

And see Q16 above for a discussion of when early start league players that are bumped up remain eligible to keep playing at their lower level.

Also see this blog post explaining when and why you can continue playing at your old level.

Update March 2017: I have learned that for 2017 Early Start Leagues, the USTA will not be publishing and using Early Start Ratings.  Instead, players current rating (2015 year-end or current self-rating) will be used for these leagues.  However, players that advance to 2017 Nationals must play at their 2016 year-end level and each Section will decide if the same applies for any playoffs held during 2017.  See this blog post for more details.

Q27: Can a player be bumped up on the early start list but go back to their old level at year-end?
A: Yes, this is possible and I've seen it happen numerous times. And it can go the other way too, a player isn't on the early start bump list but then is at year-end. It can happen for at least a couple reasons.

First, the player may play more matches after the early start ratings come out and if these cause their rating to go up or down, this could result in them not being bumped up/down at year-end. These matches could be from subsequent rounds of playoffs that they play in or another league that their section chooses to include in year-end ratings. If a section includes tournament results, these could also affect one's year-end rating and make it different than the early start rating.

Second, as noted above, year-end calculations incorporate some extra calculations to normalize ratings across the sections. At a very high level, you can think of it this way. If the team that goes to Nationals from your section does very well, that may be an indication that your section was stronger than your ratings indicated, and the good results from that team will cascade back to the players that played against them within the section, district, and area that they came from. This can in turn "pull up" the ratings of those players. However, if that team does poorly in playoffs, the effect can be that the ratings of the players that played them would go down.

Q28: Can players play only in leagues at their published NTRP rating level?
A: The USTA allows player to "play up" by playing in league play at one level higher than their current rating. For example, a 3.5 and play in a 4.0 flight. However, some sections impose rules about the number of players on a roster that must at "at level". I've seen the requirements range from 50% to 75% of players having to be at level. But some teams or clubs may actually impose stricter requirements and not allow any players to play up, perhaps to avoid complaints from at level players losing playing time to those playing up.

One exception to the at-level percentages is if a team went to Nationals, they are forced to split up (no more than three Nationals players on a roster) or can elect to move up as a team. It is possible the team would not meet the minimum at-level percentage but they are allowed to play with that roster under the move-up/split-up rule provisions.

Q29: I'm a B rated player and tried to appeal my rating and was denied, why?
A: Benchmark players are not allowed to appeal their rating in the year they receive the B designation. I believe this is for the following reasons, but first some background.

Any rating algorithm is not going to be perfect, but the more data an algorithm has the better it can be. The appeal rules are in place to allow for the chance that a player's rating is off a bit if they've played only a few matches, and to give those that are close to a bump up/down to play at their desired level. This is why the appeal rules have a diminishing appeal threshold based on the number of matches played.

Given that, B rated players receive the designation because they went to playoffs, and as such got to play other players from other districts or sections. By doing so, they have results against a broader cross section of players which in theory makes their rating more accurate. Thus there is no need to allow an appeal to make up for any inaccuracies.

Further, the year-end calculations do use B rated players as a measuring stick, or benchmark, to adjust the ratings of the players they played during the year in an effort to normalize the ratings across the sections. See the answer to Q27 above. Because these players ratings were used as the basis for calculating potentially many other player's ratings, the USTA may believe that allowing one of the measuring sticks to change would skew the result in the following year.

Q30: I went undefeated all year but lost in playoffs and wasn't bumped up, shouldn't my undefeated regular season have gotten me bumped up?
A: Not necessarily.

First, going undefeated does not guarantee your rating will actually go up as it is possible you played low rated players in getting those wins and/or the scores may have been very close, and is the rating of the opponents and the scores, not just wins and losses, that determines your dynamic rating.

Second and more importantly, if your dynamic rating had gotten above the threshold to be bumped up prior to playoffs, it is entirely possible that the playoff loss would have dropped you below the threshold. This is for two reasons. A) Your rating is affected more by your recent matches than older matches. B) Playoff matches are given extra weight in the year-end calculations. So that playoff loss carries a bit of a double whammy and is likely the reason you didn't get bumped up.

Q31: What are the "plus" leagues?
A: For players rated 5.0 and above, there can be limited playing opportunities simply because there aren't that many players at their level in their area. And without enough players you can't form enough teams to have a flight in a league.

So in an effort to provide these players with more playing opportunity, in 2013 the USTA instituted "plus" leagues or flights in both the 18 & over and 40 & over divisions. In these, a flight that was a 5.0 flight (18 & over) or 4.5 flight (40 & over) becomes a 5.0+ or 4.5+ flight and the team is allowed to have "plus" players (5.5 for 18 & over and 5.0 for 40 & over) rostered and then depending on the format, may play one or two of them in a match.

The rules for playing them are as follows. If the format is 1 singles and 2 doubles, only one "plus" player may play in a match and they must play on court 1 singles or doubles. If the format is 2 singles and 3 doubles, two "plus" players may play in a match and they must also play on court 1 singles or doubles.

Doing this gives these players an opportunity to be on a team and play where they otherwise might not be able to, and also requires that if both teams have a "plus" player in a match that it is likely that they'll play each other. This can work, but isn't perfect.

Q32: I played a self-rated player in their first match, will that match count?
A: Because self-rated players start with no rating (see Q9 above), their first match against a computer rated player will not impact the computer rated player's dynamic rating as there is no rating to calculate a match rating from. These matches should get included at year-end when the final calculations are made to determine year-end rating levels.

Q33: My match ended in a retirement, so does it count towards my NTRP rating?
A: Short answer, it depends. Long answer is that it does if at least one set was completed, but doesn't if not. And when it does count, the actual score at the time of the retirement is used. This means you could get a match win in the standings when trailing 0-6, 0-5, but your rating would be calculated based on the 0-6, 0-5 score.

Q34: I got credit for a default win, will it affect my NTRP rating?
A: No, while default wins count towards team standings and tie-breakers, they do not affect NTRP ratings.

Q35: Are ratings done by section or district? What if I play in multiple sections or districts?
A: The USTA calculates a single rating for each player regardless of which or how many sections a player plays in and the rating incorporates all of the relevant matches played by the player.  Correspondingly, the ratings I calculate do the same thing, calculating a single rating based on all relevant matches the player has played.

Q36: I am an NTRP 3.5 and am going to enter a 35 & over tournament.  How does this work?
A: There are actually two different types of tournaments; NTRP and Age Group.  See this writeup on NTRP vs Age Group tournaments, but the summary is that NTRP tournaments use your year-end or self-rated NTRP level to determine the minimum draw you can enter while Age Group tournaments are open to all players of the specified age or higher.

Q37: I was a year-end 3.5 but was bumped up to 4.0 on an early start list.  Can I still play leagues or tournaments as a 3.5?
A: Players that have been bumped up on an early start list (ESL) must play in the early start leagues at their new level, so you must play as a 4.0 in those leagues.  However, if you are still playing in a non-early start league that started prior to the early start bump, most sections allow you to continue to play in that league through completion of the season, although specific rules can vary from section to section.  So you should be able to continue playing on an existing 3.5 team through the end of that leagues season, probably even into playoffs.

With tournaments, in general, only your prior year year-end rating, or self-rating in the absence of a year-end rating, is used and being an early start bump does not affect the level you can play at in NTRP tournaments.

Q38: What matches that I play count towards my rating?
A: The short answer is "it depends".  The longer answer is that each section has different rules about what matches get included in calculating your year-end rating.

Every section is going to include those leagues that can advance to the 18 & over, 40 & over, and 55 & over Nationals, these are typically Spring leagues.  But some sections/districts have Summer, Fall, or Winter leagues that also can advance to Nationals so these will be included.  Then some sections/districts have other leagues that may or may not be included such as Fall leagues that don't advance to Nationals, singles leagues, Tri-Level leagues, or One Doubles leagues.  These are often included, but not always, the Southern section is one that only includes leagues that advance to Nationals.  There are also Combo leagues in some sections that to my knowledge are never counted.

See the next two questions regarding mixed and tournament matches.

Q39: How does playing mixed doubles affect my rating?
A: The short answer is "it probably doesn't".  The longer answer is that mixed results don't count if you also play in a men's/women's league during the same year, specifically you'd need to play in at least three men's/women's matches in order to get a year-end C rating in which case your mixed matches aren't used at all in determining your rating.

If you don't play at least three men's/women's matches but do play at least three mixed matches, then you may get a Mixed-exclusive or "M" rating at year-end.  I say "may" because if you had a C rating at the end of the prior year, my experience is that it will carry over to the next year even if you only played mixed.

Q40: How does playing tournaments affect my rating?
A: It depends on your section.  Some sections will include sanctioned NTRP tournament results in year-end ratings, others don't, it is entirely up to each section to decide.  Results from age group tournaments are not counted however in any section to my knowledge.

Even in sections where tournaments are included in year-end calculations though, they don't affect your dynamic rating calculated throughout the year.

Q41: I appealed my rating down and was successful, now what happens?
A: As discussed in Q15 above, player's may appeal their rating down and if they meet the criteria it can be done on-line and immediately granted.  So what happens now?

First, the player is eligible to play at the lower level.  So if a player was a 4.0C and appeals down, they become a 3.5A (the "A" indicating they appealed to the level) and may play at the 3.5 level.

Second, while they are eligible to play at the appealed level, they are subject to strikes and being disqualified from the level and promoted up.  The idea here is that the appeal may be granted since ratings are not perfect and your rating was very close to the threshold, but the USTA wants to guard against player's abusing the ability to appeal if they can really compete at the level higher.  So similar to a self-rated player being subject to strikes, an appeal player is too.  If their dynamic rating exceeds the strike threshold three times, they will be disqualified and promoted up.

Q42: I played with the same partner all year and they were bumped up but I wasn't.  How can that be?
A: In doubles, the relative ratings of the partners are maintained for the match they play together, effectively, each partner is moved up or down the same amount.  So if your dynamic rating is 3.2 and your partner's is 3.4 and you have a really good win that is 0.25 better than expected, your match rating would be 3.45 and your partner's would be 3.65.  So in this scenario, if you play with the same partner all year, they will always have a dynamic rating 0.2 higher than you.

Q43: I just played a player that has played USTA League before but they were self-rated?  How can that be?
A: When a player gets a year-end rating, it is valid for 3 years.  So even if they don't play at all for one or two years, their year-end rating still applies.  But a player that doesn't play at all for the 3 years, or more specifically, one that doesn't play at least 3 matches in each of those years, will have their rating expire and they are required to self-rate again.