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Earning a National Ranking

Q. “I have been playing tennis for quite a few years now, all the way up through high school, where I played No. 2, only behind the state champion, all four years. I am currently in college, tried out for the team, made it, but decided to concentrate on schooling in place of tennis.

I have been playing tournaments (USTA) and have done well in those, placing first in the last tournament I was in. I was just curious as to what paths there are to playing national tournaments at my age – 20 – and paths to turning pro. Do I need to play a certain amount of USTA adult tournaments to get a national ranking because I have no idea how it works to become a national player and even to eventually play pro tournaments. Can you reach the pro level through USTA tournaments?

If someone could fill me in so that I could really understand how it all works, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you so much!"

From LindyLou, Bensalem, PA:

I think I can clear a few things up for you. You can become a tennis pro -- that is, a tennis professional who teaches tennis. Most likely, you cannot become a touring pro, or one who makes a living by playing professional tournaments. I say this based on the information that you provided.

1. All adult players are assigned a rating number based on their ability to play the game. The touring pros are at the level of 6.5 or 7.0. From what you say, I would guess you are about a 4.5, maybe 5.0. Given this ability at age 20, you could not make it on the pro tour, and I would advise you to reevaluate your goals. If you want to know your rating, hit with a pro, and he/she will tell you.

2. On the other hand, you could most definitely achieve an adult national ranking. This is done by entering adult USTA tournaments. Every part of the country is in one USTA section or another; there are 17 sections nationally. You must call your USTA office and speak with the person in charge of running adult tournaments. They will tell you how many you must do in a given year and how well you need to do in each one to get a ranking. Each section has a list of tournaments, and they can send you a schedule, or this may be online now, and you can pick and choose which ones you want to do, usually based on the location of the tournament.

3. Adult tournaments are done by age groups, so you would enter ones in your age group, which is 20-25 or 20-30. They also may have an "open" category, that is, open to any age.

4. You are passing up a wonderful opportunity if you don't play college tennis. You did not say exactly why you did not continue on the team. Did it take too much time away from your studies? If so, of course the schoolwork comes first. But if you can handle both, the benefits are enormous. You get great competition, the fun of playing on a team, on-court coaching, conditioning, practices with teammates. When are you ever going to get all that?? I suggest you give it another try. And if you make it, you will become an excellent time manager and have skills that you can use for the rest of your life. And you could make friends with students from other countries who may be on your team.

I hope some of this helps. Write back and let me know.

From Aaron R., Alsip, IL:

The best way to get a national ranking and then go on to play professional tennis is to first play all four of the USTA National events. The first one is in May at the Evert Academy; then, in June, there is the one in San Diego. From there, there is the International tennis Hall of Fame Event held in Newport, and lastly, at year’s end, there is the Men's Indoor National in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Besides playing those, your next bet is to play USTA Pro Circuit events that have a draw of 128. Once you get a high enough national ranking, you will have a better possibility to try to get into the 64-draw size. Once you get your first ATP Tour point, you then can pretty much go anywhere in the U.S. and get into the qualifying. Just so you know, in order to get a point, you must win five matches in a draw of 128 -- four qualifying and one main draw. Then, for your draw of 64, you must win four matches -- three in the qualifying and one in the main draw.

All that I have told you can be found on the USTA website. Look under Pro Circuit, and click on getting started. You also have to go to the ITF website and sign up for an IPIN number because without it you cannot get into any circuit events.

I wish you the best. I have been playing the pro circuit since 2002 and am still playing. My best advice is no matter what people around you say or think, only what you think matters. Also, believe in yourself and know that it will be a grind out there and that you will have to make a lot of sacrifices in order to chase your dream. Just so you know, most of the great players -- no matter the level of professional tennis -- lose more than they win.

Take care, and I hope this helps you.

From Kenny S, Highland Park, IL:

I am surprised you don't get a free ride at a top Division I school. NCAA Division I tennis is a way to develop skills, play the best players, get your college paid for; and if you win the Division I title, you get an invitation to the US Open!

It’s also cool to play national tournaments instead. Go to the USTA website and find national tournaments that fit your schedule. I think you need three national tournaments to get a national ranking. Then there are the Challenger tournaments and qualifier tournaments for tour events. You probably want to contact the International Tennis Federation, join both the USTA and the ITF, and play ITF events, like the Challenger tournaments. Andre Agassi played Challengers after his ranking fell into the high 200s, then won some events and made it back into the top-level pro events. You have to be a real journeyman and an awesome tennis player -- above 6.0 on the USTA level system -- to be a touring pro.

Good luck to you… I hope you are really incredible! Or maybe you can become a teaching pro, share the game with people, and develop all ages of tennis players -- they say tennis is the game for a lifetime.

Go to USPTA.com or PTR.com to take classes and get certified as a teaching pro. So there are a lot of options for you at age 20. You probably will have to play two to four hours a day, lift weights and train like an animal to win national tournaments or small pro events. So it would take more time than Division I tennis.

I hope this advice helps. Good luck.

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