As tennis became a more structured game, evolving from its roots indoors to out on the lawns and eventually the courts, ranking systems needed to be created. If a player is thoroughly outmatched, it will not only be discouraging for the player on the losing end, but it will also be boring for the crowd.
There are multiple accepted ways to rank tennis players, and the ranks are used to determine their place in tournaments.
What are the major tennis levels? The major tennis levels are the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) and the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR). In addition, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) have systems in place to rank their players.
Rating vs. Ranking
The first thing to understand when it comes to this information is the difference between a rating and a ranking. A rating is a numerical value assigned to an individual player based on their skill set.
Alternatively, a ranking determines a player’s skill in relation to other players in a tournament or on tour. This assists with entry into tournaments or seeding within a contest.
NTRP – National Tennis Rating Program
The NTRP will only really be relevant to players from the United States. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) developed this ranking system to help organize the various skill levels of the players in their tournaments.
This system was developed in 1978 and works by players assigning a number between 1.5 to 7.0. Beginner adult players would be listed as 1.5, and touring professionals would be listed as 7.0. The rankings are done in 0.5 increments.
Those playing in youth tournaments can receive Junior NTRP ratings that range from 2.0 to 7.0 and go up by one-tenth increments (i.e., 2.1, 2.2., 2.3).
Players who have already played in a few USTA tournaments should have their rating generated by a computer algorithm that uses your year-end rating, your opponent’s year-end rating, and victory or defeat margin. You can look up your rating on the USTA website.
Self-Rating Your NTRP
If you don’t have enough experience to have a computer-generated rating, the USTA offers guidance on self-rating based on those characteristics. However, it’s essential to be realistic about your abilities when you self-rate ahead of a tournament.
If you overestimate your abilities, you’ll be defeated and not provide a solid opponent for other players. If you underestimate your abilities, you may outpace other players. If this happens, the USTA may retroactively change your rating.
UTR – Universal Tennis Rating
The UTR is a complex calculation based on a proprietary algorithm that utilizes information from your latest 30 games in the last 12 months. At the time of this writing, N. Djokovic, R. Nadal, and D. Medvedev are the top three highest-rated by their UTR, sitting at 16.37, 16.30, and 16.23, respectively. Based on the UTR system, 16.50 is the highest possible score.
As the name suggests, this rating applies to players worldwide and is held up as the gold standard of tennis ratings. Everyone can get their UTR for free, and Universal Tennis has developed an iOS app that helps player track their rating.
According to a video on their YouTube page, the UTR is a combination of three significant factors:
- The difference between the UTRs of two competing players
- A percentage of games won vs. the expected outcome (also calculated by UTR before a match)
- A weighted scale that assigns a higher weighting given to more recent matches
This will help players watch their progress as they continue playing. The UTR website and app also provide a networking element, allowing players to find similarly rated opponents and tournaments in their area.
ITF – International Tennis Federation
The International Tennis Federation runs men’s and women’s tours that serve as entry-level tours. These tours act as stepping stones for professional players, who can use their performance in these tournaments to advance into more competitive tournaments such as the ATP Challenger Tour and the ATP Tour.
Each player’s performance on the ITF Tours is used to place them within the overall rankings in the ATP and the WTA. They offer tournaments all over the world that offer more modest prize packages than the ATP Challenger. The ITF also maintains a Juniors tour, a Seniors tour, the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, and a beach tour for juniors and adults.
The ITF also creates a World Tour where men’s and women’s national teams compete to win the Davis Cup (men’s) or the Billie Jean King Cup (women’s). The Billie Jean King Cup was formerly known as the Fed Cup.
This ranking comprises a rolling, four-year cumulative system where more recent games are more heavily weighted. Additionally, wins in the World Group rounds have a heavier weight than wins at the Zone Group level.
In 2021, the Russian Tennis Federation defeated Croatia to win the Davis Cup. The 2021 Billie Jean King Cup also went to the Russian Tennis Federation when they beat Switzerland in the finals.
ATP – Association of Tennis Professionals
This is the highest level of play for male tennis players, analogous to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The ranking is determined by adding up the total points from:
- the four Grand Slams
- the eight ATP Tour Masters 1000 tournaments
- their best six results from the other non-mandatory tour events
- their results from the ATP Finals (if they advanced to the ATP Finals)
Theoretically, the highest number of points a player could receive is 21,000. They would achieve this by winning all of the included tournaments. However, the highest amount of points awarded to a player was 16,950. Novak Djokovic achieved that feat on June 6, 2016.
Series Within the ATP
The ATP hosts a series of Challenger tournaments that are named by the number of points the winner receives. For instance, the winner of the Challenger 50 receives 50 ranking points for winning the tournament. Challenger 80, 90, 100, 110, and 125 tournaments are available to players.
The 250 and 500 Series follow along by awarding either 250 or 500 points to the winner. The Masters 1000 has a points prize of 1000, and the four Grand Slams award 2000 points each to the winner. In each of these tournaments, the losing finalist receives fewer points than the winner and down the line. Therefore, the further a player gets in the tournaments, the higher they will be ranked.
Now, since there are so many tournaments and points involved in these rankings, instead of fans talking about how many points a player has, it’s much easier to talk about their ranking number. For instance, Novak Djokovic is currently ranked number one.
It’s also common for players to have their highest rankings listed on their Wikipedia pages or other media platforms. In the first paragraph of Reilly Opelka’s Wikipedia page, many of his achievements are listed, including, “He has been ranked as high as World No. 17 in singles by the ATP, which he achieved on February 28, 2022.”
Players looking to play in tennis tournaments might be overwhelmed by the many ways in which tennis players rank themselves. Luckily, once players get started in tournaments, the ratings and rankings are calculated for them and can be used as tools to track their progress.
Remember, ratings like the NTRP and UTR provide scales where beginners and pros alike have their skills evaluated. Rankings compare players to each other within tournaments or tours and help determine entry into contests and seeding within tournaments.