Photograph: Ellen Perez UTR Sydney 2020 (Tennis Australia).
On January 1 this year, Tennis Australia announced that the UTR system would become the official rating for tennis in Australia, replacing the old Australian Rankings points.
Therefore, unless you’re a touring professional, the UTR is your holy grail if you’re a tennis player of any level in Australia: recreational, club, amateur or college.
UTR has been an ongoing hot topic here at The First Serve. Last week, Part 1 of our UTR series looked at the origin story of the UTR and how widely used the rating system now is around the world.
This week we focus on the UTR in Australia and the reasons behind its inception as the yardstick with which we measure competitive tennis.
Australian Ranking (AR) system
Prior to the introduction of UTR, Australia had a rankings system. What this meant was that there were a number of Australian Rankings (AR) sanctioned tournaments that players would compete at for rankings points, around the country. These were then split into two categories for juniors and adults:
Australian Money Tournaments (AMTs)
Junior Tournaments (JTs)
With both AMTs and JTs, there were different levels of tournaments for their respective tours. These were bronze, silver, gold and platinum, all with different prize money and ranking points attached.
Only results from a player’s previous 12 months' worth of AR tournaments would contribute to a player’s Australian Ranking.
Tennis Australia would then take a player’s 8 best singles and 25% of his/her 6 best doubles results to determine their ranking.
A player’s existing ranking would determine whether you were seeded or went straight to the main draw, or had to qualify to compete.
Lastly, International Rankings Points from the international junior and open circuit would also add to a player’s Australian Ranking, grouped as follows:
So there you have it, in a nutshell. A little confusing and convoluted, but that was the Australian Rankings system for many, many years.
Move to UTR
In January of this year, 2022, that all changed. TA decided to move to the UTR system and replace the AR system completely.
As discussed in Part 1 of this series, a UTR is a rating, rather than a ranking, system, taking a player’s most recent 30 matches within the past 12 months, graded on a 16-point scale, regardless of age or gender.
Since partnering with Universal Tennis in 2019, TA had already planned on introducing the UTR system, following a 2-year review during the pandemic-affected years of 2020/21.
Chief Tennis Officer, Tom Larner, stated in September 2021 that TA wanted to, “open up more opportunities for both the everyday player and performance athlete in a time highly affected by the pandemic.”
With this new competitive pathway, the UTR Pro Tennis tour, will replace AMTs and JTs, on the way to ITF, WTA and ATP events, internationally.
The UTR Rating has been incrementally introduced into selected inter-club, league, and team tennis offerings throughout 2022 as the Australian Rankings system is gradually phased out.
Theory behind UTR
So why the shift to a ratings (UTR) system from a rankings (AR) system?
There are largely two reasons: higher player coverage and participation and fairer, level-based play across the country.
According to Director of Tennis Pathways and Game Development at Tennis Australia, Laurence Robertson, the AR system, “served 6000 players” while there are now, “80,000 players with a UTR rating profile.”
This speaks to the first point about higher player coverage and, according to Laurence, participation numbers do seem to be up from the previous two years.
From a TA point of view, the metrics indicate that the total number of players competing is flat compared to 2019, and up from 2021. The opportunity for them to compete has actually “gone up by 35-37%”, according to Robertson.
Andy Reynolds, Competitive Play Lead from Tennis Victoria, spoke to the second point, regarding level-based tennis.
“This (UTR) has been the culmination of 2 years of stakeholder engagement through Tennis Victoria and Tennis Australia in terms of ‘what did the player want?’ The number 1 response was level-based tennis and team tennis.” If that is the case, the UTR system would go some way to address this issue in better managing and matching similarly rated players for more competitive matches in an event-based setting.
6 months in, how is the UTR tracking?
The idea is a good one, embracing a wide range of players of differing skill levels with many more opportunities available across club competitions, tournaments and events around the country.
Events like the recent Tennis Victoria State Championships at Royal South Yarra Tennis Club and UT Flex Leagues have been introduced to add more flexibility to the competition calendar for different reasons.
The TV State Champs was to address perceived weaknesses of certain member associations by having the stronger teams from each (Waverly, Eastern etc) face off against each other.
UT Flex Leagues, on the other hand, was for the “time poor people,” according to Reynolds.
“Those Flex leagues are about putting it back on the player and the opposition to find a time and a place that is acceptable for both, at an appropriate level.”
Both events also seem aimed at all levels of club tennis player, not just budding professionals.
As Robertson put in our Expanded Commentary on UTR piece, “the introduction of the new framework was to ultimately attract, retain and develop players of all ages and abilities.”
TA seems to have largely achieved this, a summary of the positive feedback received by Robertson and noted by The First Serve, below: 1. Players 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 juniors 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 States is up – so players are playing different types of competition and not simply tournaments.
It’s not all positive though. Like anything new, there have been some teething issues since the adoption of UTR in Australia. Next week, we look at some of the criticisms of the UTR system that TA has had to address within the wider tennis community.