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.

Clijsters Goes for an Open Dynasty

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The distance between the two old rivals shrunk to the size of the sweatband Kim Clijsters used to swipe the sweat off her forehead. The reigning US Open champion had watched her third-set lead evaporate and could hear Venus Williams’ fast footsteps approaching net with the set deadlocked at 4-all. That’s when Clijsters created closure by playing over Williams’ head.

Lofting a looping topspin lob into the wind, Clijsters watched the ball sail over Williams’ outstretched Wilson racquet and land a few feet inside the baseline, earning her the crucial break and a 5-4 lead.

Exploring every stroke in her shot spectrum, Clijsters served out a tense 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 conquest of Williams in a rollercoaster of a wildly windy match to advance to her fourth US Open final in her last four Flushing Meadows appearances.

“I thought as long as I keep trying, I have to make one,” Clijsters said of the lob. “It’s instinct. You decide to do that and it works. It was an important point and I’m happy to get through. You can put a little bit more behind it because I was against the wind.”

It was Clijsters’ 20th consecutive US Open victory, tying her with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Venus for the second-longest US Open winning streak in the Open Era.

“It obviously means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my my title from last year. It’s a great opportunity,” Clijsters said. “I think today was probably one of the best matches that I’ve played throughout the tournament. I was able to raise my level, and that’s probably what I’m most please about is obviously I was able to win a close match like this, but that I was able to kind of rise to the occasion when I had to.”

It was the 13th meeting between Venus and Clijsters, who has won five in a row to take a 7-6 lead in the head-to-head series. Tennis’ top working mom denied Williams’ quest to return to the US Open final for the first time since 2002. Williams entered the Open without playing a single match during the US Open Series yet came within a few points of navigating her way to the final.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be back next year. This is what I do, and I feel like I played great tennis even with minimal preparation,” Venus said. “Obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow.  I may have lost the match, but that’s just this match.  There will be others.”

Serena Williams, looking champion chic in Venus’ support box, sat this Open out and in Serena’s absence Clijsters is the best hard-court player in the world, in part because she’s the most balanced offensively and defensively. Then there’s the fact she’s always been at her best on North American hard-courts. When she stormed to her first career Grand Slam title at the 2005 US Open, Clijsters simply wore out Williams in rallying for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 quarterfinal victory, and posted a 36-1 record on American hard courts that year.

“I always feel good here so I know that if I play good tennis and if I can give myself an opportunity to get into that second week and play those big matches, I mean this is where I’ve played some of the best tennis that I’ve ever played,” Clijsters said. “So if I can give myself those opportunities to play these kind of matches and not get surprised by opponents in the beginning of the tournament, then anything is possible.”

The second-seeded Clijsters will carry a 5-2 career record into tomorrow night’s final against Vera Zvonareva. But Zvonareva has the game to pose problems for the two-time champion as evidenced by the fact she’s won their last two meetings. Zvonareva surprised Clijsters, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in June then grounded a slightly hobbled Clijsters, who suffered a leg strain, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in last month’s Montreal quarterfinals.

A Wimbledon finalist in singles and doubles, Zvonareva doesn’t have one overwhelming weapon, but she can hit any shot from any position on the court and showcased her net skills in today’s first semifinal.

“She’s a very, very tough opponent. Obviously, I’ve lost my last two matches with her,” Clijsters said. “She’s a player who doesn’t give you much. It’s not that she has a game that’s very unpredictable, but what she does, she does extremely well. It’s gonna be a lot different match than it was today. She has a really good backhand and she’s been serving a lot better in the last few months.”

The seventh-seeded Russian surrendered serve just once in scoring a stirring 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to advance to her second consecutive Grand Slam final.

Zvonareva snapped Wozniacki’s 13-match winning streak by playing with purpose and passion in persistently pushing the 2009 US Open finalist into defensive positions on the court.

“Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge,” Zvonareva said. “She’s a great mover on the court.  She has a lot of experience.  She won here last year. You know, it’s going to be tough. We played a couple of matches for the past couple of months, but those matches are in the past.”

Williams missed the entire US Open Series while recovering from a knee injury. Her court appearances were confined to World TeamTennis, a few clinics and a book signing appearance at the Los Angeles tournament. Though she was short on match play, Williams wields an abundance of experience, a whipping 120 mph first serve and wisely acted on the fact she could not grind with Clijsters today. Her best shot was moving forward and pressuring the reigning champion.

Pressure, the tormenting winds and Clijsters’ unrelenting pursuit of every ball created a cocktail of torture for Williams in the tiebreaker as she hit two of her seven double faults in the break then badly bungled an easy overhead to fall behind 1-5. Banging a backhand into the net, Williams handled Clijsters five set points and she closed the set in 62 minutes.

“Obviously in the tie break I wasn’t able to play as well as I wanted,” Williams said. “I had too many errors, and she played some good tennis”

Clijsters saved a break point in her opening service game of the final set. She broke for a 2-1 lead when Williams buried a backhand into the net.

Serving at 4-3,Clijsters unravaled in committing two double faults. She had a clear look at the open court but slapped a swinging forehand volley four feet long to hand back the break and it was 4-all.

Father Richard Williams was gnawing nervously on a toothpick as his daughter tried to consolidate the break only to see Venus victmized when Clijsters rode the current of the blustery breeze with two  running rainbow lobs that lit up the murky sky. Stabbing a stretch backhand lob in the corner, Clijsters hammered a forehand winner down the line and when Venus double faulted beyond the box, Clijsters had double break point.

Staying true to her game plan, Williams did the right thing and attacked net behind a vicious forehand, but did not do enough with the forehand volley and paused momentarily to watch that shot land. That’s when Clijsters, hitting against the wind, went airborne with the lob that broke Williams’ serve and shattered her hopes in the process.

“I felt like I was trying to be aggressive in that game, and I came in you know, three out of five points.  Unfortunately it didn’t work for me,” Williams said. “She was playing against the wind, so it just blows the ball back in.  There’s not so much I could do on those points.  It was kind of a little bit of bad luck for me. You know, she just played to win.”

A Clijsters’ win in tomorrow’s 7 p.m. final would make her the first woman to successfully defend the Open since Venus did it in 2001.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

No Oudin Run In 2010

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Melanie Oudin turned her back to the court, faced the blue back wall and stared at her Wilson racquet as if searching the strings for solutions to the problems posed by Alona Bondarenko. Oudin mastered the art of the comeback during her rousing run to the 2009 US Open quarterfinals, but the resignation on her face in the final game today revealed a woman well aware Cinderella stories only come once in a career.

This time, the ferocious forehand was weighted with worry, the “courage” emblazoned on her shoes contrasted with the concern on her face and the crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium waited for a moment that never came.

The 29th-seeded Bondarenko ran off 10 consecutive points to send Oudin out of the US Open second round, 6-2, 7-5.

Oudin conceded she felt a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.

“I think the nerves got the best of me today a little bit, especially in the first set,” Oudin said.  “Second set I started playing a lot better, making the points a little bit longer. But, yeah, the first set definitely like the crowd was like really, really loud.  It was just like a lot. The second I got out there, I guess it kind of overwhelmed me a little bit, so.”

On match point, Oudin pushed a running backhand down the line wide, looked down with vacant eyes then walked to the net to shake hands as the crowd, which was nearly mute during the final two games, offered appreciative applause.

The 18-year-old Oudin, who made “believe” her personal mantra in etching the word on her adidas in playing with resolve and resilience at the ’09 Open, snapped a four-match losing streak in her first-round win over 143rd-ranked qualifier Olga Savchuk. But she has not beaten a top-30 ranked opponent since scoring three consecutive comeback wins over Russians Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova at the Open last year and could not hold off the 33rd-ranked Bondarenko today.

A nervous Oudin could not find her first serve at 5-all in the second set. She slapped her forehand into the net, netted a backhand down the line and missed another forehand before lofting a running lob long to drop serve at love.

Oudin won just eight of 25 points played on her second serve. Unable to break Bondarenko down in baseline rallies, Oudin began to play closer to the lines.

“I mean, it’s tough coming back, especially after like the US Open I had last year, coming back and expecting to do that well again,” Oudin said. “And, yes, the expectations for me I think from like the fans were extremely high.  You could tell by the crowd.  Even the second I walked out there, people like expected me to win again like last year.”

Tennis is all about adjustments and opponents have learned that Oudin thrives off pace, particularly to her forehand. She has worked with coach Brian de Villiers to move forward in the court on her terms, but at 5-feet-6 Oudin does not have a lot of sting on her serve and her reach can be exposed when opponents draw her into net with short slices.

Oudin is at her best when she’s running around her backhand and hammering her favored forehand, but Bondarenko refused to let Oudin find her comfort zone in the final stages of the match.

The match showed Oudin’s game is still very much a work in progress and she views every match as another credit course on the learning curve that is the pro circuit.

Five minutes after her post-match press conference concluded, a relieved Oudin was on the receiving end of a hug from her younger brother as they walked down the hallway inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I guess I’m a little tiny bit relieved now,” Ouudin said. “I can kind of start over, I guess like start over from all the expectations from like last year.  And now I can just go out and hopefully do really well the rest of the year and keep working hard.”

Her US Open dream may be over for this year, but Oudin is still part of the tournament, playing mixed doubles with Ryan Harrison.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.