The full implementation of UTR across all levels of competitive play in Australia in 2022 is the biggest talking point domestically.
On our live radio show on the 9th May, Tennis Australia Director of Pathways and Game Development Lawrence Robertson joined Brett Phillips in the studio to give a state of play update, five months into being fully rolled out on January 1st this year. To watch that full interview you can go to our Youtube Channel - https://youtu.be/jn0mjbZCVD8
There were many of your questions/comments, that were sent in that we didn’t get to ask and they were forwarded on to Lawrence to come back with a written response, which is provided below.
Entries in some junior tournaments have dropped as Parents are playing their kids above their age group, as if they go down their UTR is not hit as hard. You're getting 12YO playing in Open age women and getting smashed by somebody 10+ years older who is physically much bigger & stronger. This just dilutes the competition. It's not enjoyable to watch.
A: The changes made to playing competitive tennis in Australia were done so to ensure a better playing experience for everyone involved. Whilst we acknowledge that there has been a drop in entries across Tournaments there has also been an increase in competitive playing opportunities and we are continuing to work with Member Associations, event deliverers, clubs and coaches on how best to ensure players are entering events best suited to their level.
Ongoing education is key and as such we recognise the important role parents and coaches have to play in ensuring players are being entered into events supportive of a players development. Players looking to improve their UTR should be encouraged to commit to competing consistently at their level as well as educated on the benefits in playing down as well as up. The notion that the only way to improve your rating is to ‘play up’ is simply incorrect and we would certainly not encourage any 12 year old player to enter Open events as their development is better served playing at their age and level.
To this point, over the past six months we’ve been monitoring the data of players who have improved their UTR and what we’ve found are three key themes.
1. The players commit to compete regardless of their opponent and have all played above and below their rating
2. The players compete regularly - +50 matches per annum
3. The players win/loss ratio is between 65% - 75% which means they are winning more than they are losing.
Another observation is the talk around tournaments from parents & even players as young as 11 or 12 is What's your UTR? No talk of fun or anything else. Are we going down the right path?
A: The introduction of the new framework was to ultimately attract, retain and develop players of all ages and abilities. A lot of the positive feedback we have received in the first 4 months is that players entering into the sport and competing in their first tournament are having a much greater experience for a number of reasons
1. They are travelling less and therefore the cost is lower
2. The placing of players in rating bands is increasing their enjoyment
3. The introduction of round-robin or monrad draws is guaranteeing more matches for players
4. More kids in the lower tiers are being recognised for wins as they are playing at their level
5. Entries and team numbers in junior leagues in a number of our key States is up – so players are playing different types of competition and not simply tournaments.
No one is playing anymore, compared to the Australian Ranking system. My kids are elite and there is little purpose in playing tournaments at the moment. Kids forfeiting during matches is rife.
A: The total number of players competing is flat compared to 2019 and up from 2021. So, the same numbers of players are competing – there is simply more choice for them both in terms of tournaments and club competition. We believe there is a lot to be gained from competing in tournaments as it points back to the 3 points outlined above in terms of supporting a players development and progress. 1. Commit to compete. 2. Compete regularly 3. Win more than you lose.
Now that we can see the impact the recent changes have had, junior tournament entries (particularly NSW regional tennis) and the increased number of incidents of mid match retirements from losing players to protect UTR, what strategies will be rolled out to combat these issues?
A: In regards to mid-match retirements, we will shortly be communicating a change to the rules regarding withdrawals and designed to significantly decrease the number of withdrawals available to a player before they incur disciplinary points. We will also be increasing the penalty for players withdrawing once the tournament commences. Ongoing education and communication is also crucial.
Who were the 4408 people who answered the survey last year? I am still yet to meet one and it is not like I don’t know anybody in the sport either.
A: On 15th September 2020, Tennis Australia and their Member Associations sent an email to the entire competitive database (players, officials, tournament hosts, member association presidents / officials) which was titled ‘Help shape the future of tennis competitions in Australia.’. This was sent to more than 80k, it was opened by more than 50k and was completed by just over 4k.
Bring back what we had. The Pro Tour does it. Why on earth should we do the opposite?
A: There is a significant difference between the Professional tours (ATP / WTA) where you have such a large number of players at a very high level and of very similar ability. Therefore the ranking system is built to provide clarity on performance in specific events and is predicated on a head to head basis.
The new framework is intended to support players of all ages and abilities and to help us understand what the level of our players are. The new framework now provides more opportunity for players to compete, both in tournaments and competition, whilst still providing opportunities for players to progress through the pathway through State championships, national championships and into the Junior ITF calendar in Australia
I’ve personally lost business myself, by not having the opportunities to take my players to events.
A: We acknowledge that a reduction in numbers will have meant that revenue for some tournaments in the first part of the year could be lower. We are committed to working with our Member Associations who have responsibility for shaping the calendar in each of their States and to identify ways in which we can help drive entry numbers through better clarity in regards to the level of the tournament, which levels of player should be competing, driving player and coach education on UTR and identifying ways in which they can incentivise participation amongst the player group for all tournaments, not just those in regional areas.
NSW players have said to make showdown they literally have been given a checklist of tournaments to play. If you don’t tick TA boxes, your unable to play Australian Championships. This has created uproar. Parents and Players aren’t happy.
A: Each State has outlined their criteria for a player’s qualification into Nationals, if the players in question are at that level. This is a combination of a commitment to compete in key State tournaments and leagues. The requirement to play is no different to the previous system where you had to play a certain number of events in order to secure enough points to qualify.
There is little to no incentives by the governing body for players to play outside their postcode now.
A: Again, a consistent piece of feedback from the review was that to participate fully in the AR system, there was a significant time and cost commitment to be made by parents to travel in order to secure points at various tournaments.
The implementation of UTR in Australia will continue to be challenged unless Tennis Australia stop trying to use an algorithm that is ageless/genderless in age/gender events.
A: As we’ve outlined above, the introduction of a rating systems that caters for players of all ages and abilities is one which we believe will best serve our sport in the long-term both in terms of player retention and player development. As was recently demonstrated at the 12s and 14s Clay Court Nationals, the Rating is accurate correctly predicting 28 of 32 quarter finalists and over 83% of match outcomes. So, we now understand the ability of our playing community and their level relative to their local community, State, Nation and now the wider world.
The First Serve will continue to cover the UTR developments. You can call into our live show on Monday Nights on 1300 736 736 or text 0433 98 1116 or drop us an email at email@example.com with your own views.