Guide To USTA League Tennis

It’s “Championship Season” in the world of U.S. Tennis Association League Tennis as its championships are determined throughout the fall season. Tony Serksnis has been playing USTA League Tennis for over 25 years and authored the book “A PLAYER’S GUIDE TO USTA LEAGUE TENNIS” available here about the ins and outs of playing on a club, town, school or league tennis team. The following is Serksnis’s introduction to the book, available exclusively to Tennis Ledger readers.

 

I hve been playing tennis in the United States Tennis Association’s League Tennis program since I moved to Mountain View, California in 1985. However, my tennis “roots” are from playing summers as a teen in Cleveland, Ohio. I wish I still had my original wooden Wilson racquet, which had one of those “racquet anti-warp” guards. It was one where you were always tightening and un-tightening the screws to make sure your racquet didn’t get a twisted head due to humidity in those regions of the Midwest. I can also recall using a single (white!) tennis ball for an entire summer. We didn’t have money to be “extravagant” with such things as tennis balls.

Upon arriving in Mountain View, I could see many public court parks that looked inviting to play at. Mountain View also had a tennis club that was mainly social at the time. After joining that club (dues were only $20 per year), I was quick to make friends with the other club members and participated in ladders and club tournaments. It wasn’t long before I noticed that there was some sort of “league play” which turned out to be the USTA League Tennis program and the club sponsored teams at a few levels.

Back in those days, we were given National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) ratings individually by USTA officials. One would gather with several other individuals in search of their “correct” rating, play perhaps 15 minutes, and your rating was established. I started with an NTRP rating of 3.5. I did fairly well, and in two years, I got bumped up to 4.0. I stayed at that level for 23 years (yes, 23 years!) until 2009, when I was moved to a 4.5 rating at the age of 63. That is something I am very proud of. Today, NTRP ratings occur without “external verification” in that one self-rates against published guidelines. After playing a few matches, and definitely after an entire season of competitive play, one gets a computer rating based upon one’s record and “strength-of-opponent.”

League tennis has then been a serious part of my life. I used to run marathons, with tennis being a healthy “alternative” exercise, but now (due to knees being pounded by over 20 marathons) tennis is my main exercise and hobby. I hope to continue league play for as long as my body holds up and league play still remains fun. Since league play is based on playing people with similar abilities, even if one’s level decreases over the years, one can continue to compete at possibly lower levels. Players can have any skill level before their very first rating. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t played much tennis at all before getting an official rating and starting league play. Others may have been on high school teams or even played in college. Thus, USTA League Tennis provides for the entire range of beginning skill levels.

My viewpoint is from a player who plays in sunny California, where we are indeed fortunate to experience very tennis-friendly weather for most of the year. Here, the rainy season lasts for a short period at the beginning of the calendar year. This could lead to a rather narrow view of the entire USTA . One thing is for certain – the competition level doesn’t diminish beyond the Northern California region. Every USTA team steps out on to the court with the hopes of both winning and having an enjoyable experience.

In those 20-plus years of playing USTA League Tennis, I’ve served as team member, captain, and co-captain. In my first season, our team was fortunate enough to actually win our league and qualify for our local district championship and then went on to qualify for the USTA Northern California Sectional Championships. However, we were denied in our attempt to qualify for the USTA League Tennis National Championships. I’ve decided to position this book from the captain’s perspective. The captain certainly must function as an organizer, leader and motivational coach to the rest of the team. All of that for no overt compensation other than knowing that this was the best one could do. Most of the time, the captain is also a player, so while also trying to lead the team, the captain is also trying to improve their own game as player. The captain could be looked upon as the CEO & CFO of the team.

My first thought was to write (and title) the book from a “captain’s viewpoint” but I believe that all players of the USTA will find the book of value and thus, this is a “Players Guide.” I believe that if all players who are members of a USTA team look at the team from the perspective of the captain, the team will be richer for that perspective.

The United States Tennis Association defines its League Tennis program as follows; “USTA League Tennis is organized, competitive team play for women and men age 18 and older of all abilities and experience. Whether you’re new to the game or a former college player, there’s a spot for you. Teams are made up of a minimum of five to eight players depending upon division. Teams and matches are set up according to NTRP ratings, so your teammates and opponents will be at your skill level. The competition is exciting, the atmosphere is social, and since players compete on teams, you have a built-in cheering section. Teams compete in four national divisions: Adult, Senior, Super Senior, and Mixed Doubles. The format features singles and doubles matches for adult leagues, and three doubles for seniors, super seniors, and mixed leagues.”

I would add that USTA League Tennis is a way for people, who have just taken up the game of tennis, to play the sport in a competitive format. The USTA sets up this competitive format at various levels of skill, so that a person just needs to join and participate on a team to enjoy the competition. Playing against people of similar skill, who also are trying to win for their teams, will certainly improve one’s own personal skills. It is a major charter of USTA League Tennis to permit tennis players to work on improving their personal tennis skills through a competitive (yet fun) environment. Any level of player is given the chance to compete against like-skilled players in a team environment.

USTA League Tennis is an organized way to compete at your own particular level. Thus, one just needs to join a team and the USTA will set up leagues within a local geographical area where the team can win local leagues and progress all the way to a national championship. There are few other sports that allow competition to continue beyond winning their local and regional championships and lead to a recognized national championship. If a tennis-playing person moves from one “region” (or state) to another, USTA League Tennis provides an organized and consistent method to participate in a league that has uniform rules across the USA. As the USTA has 17 geographical regions within the USA, a player can expect a consistent set of league-playing rules and skill-level consistency throughout the entire league.

USTA League Tennis is fun. It’s a low-expense hobby with a decent chance of improving one’s fitness through competitive play. There is a social aspect to it in that one can pull for one’s teammates and acquire a healthy respect for the skill of the opposition. Also, the USTA rules as stated in this book could be slightly different for your particular USTA Section, or may change slightly from year to year. The team captain should actually review the USTA rules for their USTA Section each year and print those rules out to keep with them. When issues arise during a match, the rules can be quoted to help resolve that issue. The USTA general rules are meant to cover all players in the USTA , but some different “interpretations” are offered by each USTA Section.

Each player of the game of tennis should be familiar with all of the basic rules so that they can contribute towards issue resolution. I’ve found that tennis players (with rare exception) are not prone to arguments even under extreme “important match considerations.” If every USTA League Tennis match being played under a USTA sanction resulted in a negative aftermath, I’m sure the league wouldn’t be growing in members as it has. Tennis remains a game that is largely self-umpired, and 99 percent of the players “get it right” and thus the game continues to be an overall enjoyable experience.

The USTA ’s national website is www.usta.com. I’m sure all USTA players are already familiar with the site. It is certainly full of the most up-to-date information of a more general nature. In addition, each USTA Section has its own website. For example, for the Northern California (Norcal) Section, it is www.norcal.usta.com. That site would have the most information on the local league schedules, rule interpretations, and events in one’s local area. The rules, of course, must be consistent across the USTA , but I would check one’s local USTA Section’s website as they clarify certain rules for their area. I’d also like to encourage any reader of this book to consult these rules directly as I may have inadvertently put an incorrect interpretation on the particular rule for a USTA Section.

There are over 300,000 league participants throughout the USTA ’s 17 Sections, and I salute them all. I hope you enjoy my book and take something away from this that can help you and your team. Best of luck!

Tony Serksnis

Mountain View, Calif.

Mary Joe Fernandez To Continue as the Coach of the Fed Cup

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., September 9, 2010 — The USTA announced today that it has agreed to a two-year extension with U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez that will run through the 2012 season.  Fernandez took over as captain last year after serving one season as team coach.  She is 4-1 at the helm of the U.S. Fed Cup team and has led the U.S. to consecutive Fed Cup finals appearances in her first two years as captain, becoming the first U.S. captain to accomplish that feat since Marty Riessen in 1986-87.

“Mary Joe has done a tremendous job in her first two years as U.S. Fed Cup captain,” said Lucy S. Garvin, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA.  “She has created a team atmosphere that has paid dividends, and the results are indisputable.  Mary Joe has also been able to involve some of our most promising young players, paving the road for continued success in the years to come.”

Fernandez will attempt to lead the U.S. to its first Fed Cup title since 2000 when the U.S. hosts Italy in San Diego, November 6-7.  The U.S. also faced Italy in last year’s final in Reggio Calabria, Italy, losing 4-0.  World No. 1 Serena Williams and world No. 4 Venus Williams have committed to represent the U.S. in the final, joining the core U.S. Fed Cup group of Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and world No. 1 doubles player and 2010 US Open mixed doubles champion Liezel Huber.

This year will mark the first time the Fed Cup Final has been played in the United States since 2000, when the U.S. won its record 17th Fed Cup title.

Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is the world’s largest annual international women’s team competition, with 87 countries competing this year.  For more information, including access to U.S. player and historical Fed Cup records, please go to www.usta.com/fedcup.

Wilson is the official tennis ball of the U.S. Fed Cup team.

Prince Congratulates Tour Team Member Maria Sharapova on First WTA Tour Title Since Return From Surgery

10/03/09 – Bordentown, NJ – When the new WTA tour rankings are released on Monday, a familiar name will once again be in the top 20. After being sidelined by shoulder surgery for nine months, Maria Sharapova made her return to tournament tennis in May with her new Prince O3 Speedport Black racquet in hand. Since then, she has made a steady climb back up the rankings and has now captured her first tour title since the comeback.

Sharapova reeled off five consecutive games to reach a 5-2 lead over current world #8 Jelena Jankovic, before Jankovic retired the match due to injury, to win the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

“We want to congratulate Maria on her title in Tokyo and all she has already accomplished during her comeback,” said Linda Glassel, VP of Marketing at Prince. “Getting over shoulder surgery is no small feat, for any athlete, and we are proud to continue to work and supply Maria with the most technically advanced product to not only help her get her back to #1 in the world, but raise her game to new heights.”

“It’s great to have that adrenaline again. It’s funny to win trophies again after thinking I might never be able to hit a tennis ball again,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion, Sharapova. “But I’m back and I’m hungry. I can be better than before and win more Grand Slams.”

The win marks Sharapova’s 20th career title and first since Amelia Island in April of 2008. It was Sharapova’s second final in her last three tournament appearances.

Sharapova is one of more than 20 ATP and WTA touring pros currently using the Prince O3 Speedport Black. Prince’s performance racquet line features racquets with the Company’s ground-breaking O-technology – easily identifiable by the large, visible ports along the racquet frame.
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For more information about the O3 Speedport Black, other models in Prince’s performance racquet line or any other categories, visit www.princetennis.com

TIA Tennis Forum Reviews Industry, Sets Path for Future

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (Sept. 24, 2009) — The third annual Tennis Industry Association Tennis Forum, presented by Tennis Magazine, took place in New York City during the US Open and brought together industry leaders and many others interested in the future of the tennis business. The audience heard about the state of the industry, various TIA and Growing Tennis initiatives, and plans for moving the sport and industry forward.

USTA Chairman of the Board and President Lucy Garvin led off the Forum, which was held during the USTA’s annual Tennis Teachers Conference. “The TIA and USTA have a long history of working together,” she told the crowd. “While we all have our own brand which we represent, what brings us together is our shared brand, which is tennis.”

TIA President Jon Muir said that while the Tennis Health Index (a composite of five key measures) shows that the health of the sport has increased 18.1 percent in the U.S. over the last five years, the sport is still facing many economic challenges. “The general feeling is that we kind of bottomed out in the third quarter [2009] in terms of racquet shipments,” he said. “Are consumers essentially delaying certain discretionary purchases? Yes.”

Tennis ball sales, said Muir, are now trending relatively flat. However, sales of transition tennis balls are up 63 percent over a year ago. “We’re starting to see the impact in sales and distribution of QuickStart Tennis products”—which are age-appropriate racquets and balls for children.

Muir referred to recent, continued increases in tennis participation: “What else can we do to build on the momentum from a participation standpoint?” he said. “Frequent players are the ones that fuel the majority of the economic drivers of this industry. If we could get 1 million people—a 20 percent increase in frequent players—to become frequent players, it will have a huge impact.”

Addressing frequent-player growth is the subject of one of the three ongoing Task Forces that came out of two TIA “Tennis Summits” held earlier this year, Muir said. Other Task Forces deal with communication/positioning (“We need to be clear on defining a roadmap for the future and clear communication,” said Muir) and economic benchmarks (“It’s hard to grow something you can’t measure”).

Key in the communication/positioning area is the promotion of the website PlayTennis.com, a new consumer site still under development. The website is designed to be a simple portal that will serve as a central “clearing house” for the mainstream audience to learn more about tennis, to join the sport, and to get on the pathway to becoming frequent players. “PlayTennis.com will be the first step,” said Muir. “We’ll get key messaging out there through this site. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all stakeholders to get behind.”

TIA Executive Director Jolyn de Boer talked about key industry initiatives such as the GrowingTennis System (www.GrowingTennis.com) and new features and interfaces that are helping consumers and players find places to play, programs, partners and retailers. She also updated the audience on the “Racket Up, America!” promotion (www.PlayTennis.com/million), which ends Sept. 30 and is designed to drive awareness of the sport and help retail sales.

Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis, gave an update on QuickStart Tennis, designed for kids 10 and under. “Training is big,” he said. “We have to be training 20,000 parents a year” in QST, emphasizing that the training is not designed to take over from certified teaching pros. Currently, there are more than 17,000 recreational coaches and parents trained in the QuickStart Tennis format.

“The biggest challenge,” said Kamperman, “is that there’s not enough organized play and competition” on QuickStart courts. He added that there needs to be a sound progression that will lead to Jr. Team Tennis and tournaments on the shorter QST courts.

About 1,300 QuickStart Tennis facilities are registered on GrowingTennis.com. More than 400 permanent QST courts or courts with permanent QST lines have been installed in the U.S. in the past two years. And starting next year, WalMart will carry transition balls that are used in QST.

The last part of the Forum was the induction of Alan G. Schwartz of Highland Park, Ill., into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. As an avid player, club owner, founder of Tennis Corporation of America, volunteer, former USTA president and more, “Alan stands alone as a titan of our sport,” said Jeff Williams, Tennis Magazine publisher and chairman of the TIA’s Tennis Industry Hall of Fame Committee.

“Twenty years ago, [the TIA and USTA] were not a united family, but because of the efforts of Alan and others, bridges have been built that have brought us together,” Williams said in his introduction. “Few people in the history of the tennis business have had the influence and prolific presence that Alan has had in his more than 40 years in this industry.”

The audience gave Schwartz a standing ovation as he received a plaque. “I love tennis. I love the sport. I love this industry and I love being a contributor,” said Schwartz. “You have my promise that I will continue with undiminished passion to give back to this game I love so much.”

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The Tennis Industry Association, the not-for-profit trade association for tennis, is THE unifying force in the tennis industry whose mission is to promote the growth and economic vitality of tennis by working closely with the U.S. Tennis Association and industry partners to develop and implement initiatives to increase tennis participation. Core TIA activities include TIA/USTA Tennis Health Index, Consumer and Trade Research, GrowingTennis System™ including Tennis Welcome Centers, Cardio Tennis, 50-50 Co-op Program, QuickStart Tennis and TennisConnect.org. For more information, visit TennisIndustry.org or GrowingTennis.com or call the TIA at 866-686-3036 or email info@tennisindustry.org.

The Biofile: Roger Federer

Status: World’s #1 tennis player. Winner of this year’s French Open and Wimbledon.

Tennis Inspiration:  “Watching my idols play back at Wimbledon or at the U.S. Open, wanting to maybe be like them one day. Practice hard. Maybe when I was #1 junior in the world when I was 17 years old, I hoped to maybe one day maybe equal that feat on the men’s tour, also become #1 on the world there. So I’m happy I chose tennis, put it that way.”

Ht: 6-1    Wt: 177

Born On: August 8, 1981    In: Basel, Switzerland

Childhood Heroes: “Stefan Edberg – actually my favorite of all-time. Boris Becker – first favorite when I was small. Pete Sampras.”

Nicknames: Rogie, Federer Express.

Hobbies/Leisure Activities: “Sports in general, cinema, deep sea fishing, relaxing in the beach, friends, music, skiing.”

First Tennis Memory: “I remember always loving to play against the cupboards, against the doors at home. With any kind of ball…soft ball, tennis ball. My mom (Lynette) always got pissed off at me, because, Bang, bang, bang!, all day long [smiles].”

Favorite Movies: “Good Will Hunting, Entrapment, Enemy of the State.”

Musical Tastes: “Anything on top of the charts all over the world, AC/DC, Metallica, Lenny Kravitz.”

Pre-Match Feeling: “As always, before an important match, always very nervous. It’s a good feeling. It shows I think that match is very important to me. Once I’m on the court, that’s not so much the pressure, that’s the easy part. It’s what I love to do. In the beginning of the match, you hope you just play okay. Which is, start to play, get the rhythm and everything. And after two or three games, you’re not nervous anymore.”

First Job: “Never had one. I stopped school at 16 and started playing tennis.”

Early Tennis Memory: “I was playing a friend named Marco (Chiudinelli) when I was 14. Playing in Basel. And it was like six o’clock. And this bird just goes on the net [smiles]. My friend – he didn’t see the bird – and he starts serving. And he serves…and the little bird, Boom! Right on the body. The bird fell on my side of the net. And it was on the ground, like shaking, then, Boom, dead. Feathers all over the court. He didn’t know what happened. I’m like, Stop, stop! There’s a bird on the net. And he goes, Boom, and just hits it. That was unbelievable.”

Childhood Dream: “Always had tennis in my mind. Tennis was my dream. To me, Wimbledon was always the special one. Because my heroes were Becker, Edberg and Sampras. I just hope that I always be healthy and not injured.

Greatest Sports Moment: “I think I have so many [smiles]. I think the four Grand Slams are fantastic and each has a special place for me. Australian – I became number one in the world. Wimbledon – I broke Pete’s record there (for 15 slam titles). The U.S. Open – I won it five years in a row. French Open (became third man in Open era to win all four slams). And the Olympic gold medal in doubles last year. So I think those are the best moments of my career.”

Most Painful Moment: “One good thing about me is that I forget matches, even bad matches, very quickly. I get sad about not having played well but I don’t really get (upset). By the time I get back to the hotel, it’s completely forgotten and I’m fine.”

Favorite Meal(s): “Tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala. And gnocchi and gorgonzola, sausage, cheese, salad.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “Rice Crispies [laughs].”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Strawberry.”

Closest Tennis Friends: “I am lucky to speak three languages, and this opens many doors to making friends with other players. I reckon I have an excellent contact with many other players on the Tour. I do spend a lot of time with the other Swiss players when they are also at the tournaments.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “Nadal.”

Favorite Athletes To Watch: “FC Basel. Zinedine Zidane. Francesco Totti. Michael Jordan. Lennox Lewis – the best. Big and strong. Wladimir Klitschko. I liked his style. Peter Forsberg. More and more hockey. American football was not too interesting to me. Too many breaks in the action. Plus I don’t understand the rules too good.

Favorite Tennis Players To Watch:  “I just like to watch tennis. I’m flippin’ through the channels and see a match – really no matter who is playing – I just like the game very much. One player I would really like to watch is Bjorn Borg. Because I never really had the chance to see him when he was at his best. And from what I’ve seen and heard, he is a very special player and obviously a great champion.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “That they smile a lot. Friendly. Helpful. I have a motto that I like: It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. And don’t lie. I don’t like it when somebody lies. Because I never lie.”

Serena Needs To Cut The Diva Act

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – A few years ago, it seemed like Serena Williams was more concerned about her social life, fashion, and her brand name, rather than her play on the court. And it got so bad in 2006, she was unseeded in the US Open, because her ranking was so low.

Yet, Serena learned something about herself. She liked to win and as long as she is successful on the court, the other things off of it would come much, much easier.

So in 2007, Williams rejuvenated herself, winning the Australian Open and impressive runs in the other three Grand Slams, all resulting in Quarterfinal losses to Justine Henin.

More importantly, though, the diva went away. Williams was much more pleasant to deal with, even poking fun at herself from time to time.

Last night, though, the diva returned…big time. And Serena’s actions not only cost her a repeat at the Open Title, but also her reputation is going to take a hit.

For those of you who didn’t see, Williams was down a set in the second to Kim Clijsters with the score 5-6, 15-30 in the game. The lineswoman, who was not identified by the USTA, called a foot fault on Serena’s second serve, causing a double fault and the score to go to a match point for Clijsters.

Already warned after she smashed her racquet after losing the first set, Williams took a tirade at the lineswoman, threatening to shove a few tennis balls down her throat in a profanity laced tirade.

The lineswomen then went over to chair umpire Louise Engzell and tournament umpire Brian Earley to discuss the situation. She told them that Williams threatened to killer her, which Serena clearly denied. Sure, she didn’t. Serena is just promoting a new tennis ball diet.

Anyway, because it was her second violation, a violation point was awarded to Clijsters.

Game. Set. Match.

Afterwards, Williams was unapologetic about the situation.

“Well, how many people yell at linespeople?,” she said. “So I think, you know, if you look at –I don’t know. All the people that, you know, kind of yell at linespeople, I think it’s –kind of comes sometimes. Players, athletes get frustrated. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that happen.”

Frankly, this diva routine needs to stop. It’s one thing to lose your temper. I’ve done it. I am sure you have as well. It’s another to think it’s alright to treat people that way. The WTA needs to fine and possibly suspend Williams for her actions.

The USTA has done a great job making tennis the fastest growing sport in the county. This grass roots effort produced players like Melanie Oudin and Carly Gullickson, who are young kids making their mark at this year’s Open.

But Serena is the lead horse here and her actions will be copied by young girls everywhere. If she gets away with abusing a linesperson, then other players will do the same. It will create a vicious cycle which will haunt the sport of tennis.

Because of her actions, Serena already cost herself $450,000 by losing the match. She needs to pay more, unless we see some kind of contrition soon. Williams still has a chance to do it at this Open, because she is playing in the doubles final with her sister Venus.

She needs to call a press conference and read a statement saying how she was wrong, sorry to the lineswoman, and she will be making a donation to the lineswoman’s favorite charity.

Otherwise the WTA needs to step in and do something. If they don’t make an example of Serena, the WTA will once again prove that it’s an empty authority that will let its stars run wild.