Why is Your USTA Rating a Black Box?

Why is Your USTA Rating a Black Box? image

Your USTA League Rating

               The new USTA ratings for 2019 have just come out, and while, for the vast majority of players, there are no surprises, for some there is the unsettling question: how did this happen to me? In looking at how the USTA goes about their business, I was trying to come up with an analogy with which we can all readily identify. I found one: going to the doctor to determine if you should be on blood pressure medication or not. And if the doc and his tests answer yes, then what is your dosage?

               Let’s say, that this is how your doc goes about answering this question: He/she asks that you take your blood pressure with a simple phone app which records your pressure at about the same time each day. The only thing is – the app doesn’t permit you to see what is recorded. Only the central computer at the doctor’s office has the data. At the end of the month the doctor sends you an email. It says either NO CHANGE or INCREASE/DECREASE YOUR DOSAGE because you have fallen above/below the threshold. There is no information on your actual pressure readouts, no explanation of the methodology used to account for the fact that some days it is higher, other days it is lower, etc. If you call to ask a question, an administrative assistant assures you that she has no idea how it all works. Would you feel well-treated by a doctor who administered his care in this manner?

               Obviously not. The question is: why does the USTA feel that being secretive and illusive in dealing with players is to their benefit? Dynamic rating information is there at their fingertips, but they elect to keep it all in a big BLACK BOX. I am not suggesting that dynamic ratings become public information. Certainly no one would want their blood pressure records made public. However, once you log into the Tennislink site, your step-by-step dynamic rating record should be available to you. You should be able to clearly see how each of your results contributes to your final rating. This transparency would be for informational purposes only and would not permit any Appeals based upon your, now public (to you alone), record. However, this information would allow you and all other players to see how different results in different positions in the lineup effect their ratings.

               The Ratings Appeal process is also a giant BLACK BOX. We are told that any decision is made by a committee. We are told very little else. For example, we don’t know the size of the committee, who is on it, and how they weigh different aspects of an Appeal. For example, what is the relative weight of age and medical issues when the committee makes its final decision. I would only add that the criterion of a disability as “permanent” is really of no help at all when it comes to appealing down a rating. (Aside: nothing is permanent when seen from a certain perspective - haha!) It is certain though that getting older is “permanent,” because there’s no chance at getting stronger/faster/quicker after a certain point. In addition, certain medical conditions may not be “permanent” in a doctor’s assessment because he/she does not want to discourage a patient’s hope (however illusory it may be). There should be a clear distinction between this criterion and “the highly likely probability that a certain player will not play the same level of tennis in the immediate future.” (I say immediate future because ratings last for only a year).

               Tennis has a long tradition and it is slow to change. It took several more fifth set marathons at Wimbledon before they gave in to a fifth set tiebreak for 2019. The USTA is sticking to this slow-change framework. It’s time that they joined the informational sharing that characterizes the modern world.

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