A tennis player rated 3.5 would never have to play someone who is rated 5.0 within the USTA’s Adult League program. The difference in level is just too big and none of the two players would have fun on the court. The play level side of the two groups is relatively easy to observe.
A player is usually going through a natural progression to become a 5.0 player, playing as a kid, in High School, College. These players have displayed talent early on, trained for years, and at one point in time stopped progressing. Typical example is the College player who starts a job and has no ambition or no further talent to dream of professional tennis. Sooner or later they get into advanced levels of league or tournament tennis, mostly between 4.5 and 5.5.
Most adult 3.5’s have not transitioned that way at all. They either dabbled with the sport of tennis as kids without direction and training, or they picked it up as adults. Needless to say that as adults it is really hard for them to progress any further into advanced categories and usually end up at the 3.5 or 4.0 level. Since a 4.0 player is supposed to beat a 3.5 player 6-0 6-0, a 5.0 player could do the same with his eyes closed and his playing arm tied behind his back.
Interesting fact: Most intermediate level players will never be able to get into advanced territory or just don’t even want to. Not only is the cost of improvement immense (for every NTRP ratings level advancement hundreds of hours in clinics and private lessons are required), but climbing up would also separate many from their teams, their friends. And that’s not what most players necessarily want.
But are there more differences in both player levels? Can the progressions in ratings levels create a specific type of person over time? The best place to observe these players and their behavior is at USTA National League Championships. They come in teams and play singles and doubles.
OBSERVING 3.5 AND 5.0 TENNIS PLAYERS DURING NATIONAL ADULT LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS
1. DURING CAPTAINS MEETING
3.5 Players: Excited. Have many questions. Everyone raising their hand. Lots of chatter in the room. “What’s a Coman Tie Break again?”
5.0 Players: Bored. Complete silence. The rare question about warm up courts. “Can we start warming up at 4:00 am? Will there be a lighted court for us?”
2. PLAYER PARTY
3.5 Players: Excited. Everybody talking with raffle ticket in hand. After dinner every player is dancing and drinking.
5.0 Players: Cool. “Let’s have dinner and then go back to our rooms.” After dinner half the room is empty. The only people dancing are USTA staff.
3. GOING TO MATCHES
3.5 Players: Excited. All teams wear the latest tennis fashion team uniforms. New racquets and back packs galore.
5.0 Players: Pace yourself. Players wear whatever fits in their suitcase. Hydration and form are more important than looks.
4. MATCH PLAY
3.5 Players: Excited. Watch those line calls. That ball was OUT! “Sandbaggers! There’s no way our opponents are 3.5’s! We got robbed.”
5.0 Players: Play it cool. We’re all trying our best. That ball was good. “Good point.” I’ll try again next year.
5. AFTER A MATCH
3.5 Players: Excited. Where is our team standing? And where do we file complaints about the heat? Let’s see what they sell in the Pro-Shop.
5.0 Players: Whatever! Let’s get out of the sun. Where’s the water?
The attached graph shows levels of excitement for participants in the USTA’s National Adult League Championship program. It’s pretty evident that the higher level tennis you play the more you act like a cool cat. And it’s good to be cool. No?
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