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I was reading a magazine article about a thirty-something actress who never played tennis before, took a tennis clinic, and in the course of a three day weekend, rose to "high intermediate" level (a 4.0 or 4.5).

My understanding is that tennis players are rated from 1.0 (rank beginner) to 7.0 (world class). Your (local) tennis pro or instructor is likely to be about 6.0 on this scale.

Seeing the woman's strong showing, are the tennis instructors likely to think, we have a "natural" here who's likely to be "pro" caliber (6.0 or better)? Or is there more likely to be a natural ceiling of, say, 5.0 with her having reached "most" (80-90 percent) of her potential at the clinic itself?

Put another way, are the tennis ratings "exponential" (like the Richter scale for earthquakes)? That is, could it be ten times harder to reach 6.0 than 5.0, and 100 times harder to reach 7.0 than 5.0? Meaning that if some who exited a tennis clinic with a 4.5 rating could (with practice) bump it up to 5.0, that would be three times better, and 5.5 would be a tenfold improvement?

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Tom,

First I'd like to clear up some misconceptions you might have about the NTRP rating scale and where players (and teaching pros) fall on that scale.

The skill level of your local tennis pro or instructor can vary greatly. Some tennis pros are former professional players while some, who understand the game and the mechanics of all the strokes, are nowhere near the 6.0 level of playing ability. Of all the teaching pros I've ever known (about a few dozen) I'd say most average somewhere between the 4.0 to 5.0 level of playing ability. It mostly depends on how often they are still playing competitive tennis vs. just hitting balls out of a basket for other people to practice. Some might be coaching college level teams/players while others are just running cardio tennis on weeknights or teaching quick-start 10 & under to kids.

As for the actress you read about (Elisabeth Shue by chance?) - I would find it very hard to believe that anyone (whether the have natural athletic ability or not) could go from a beginner to a 4.0 or 4.5 after just one 3-day clinic. Acquiring skill in tennis is a very technical task and it takes the kind of time and repetition that just can't be done in a few days. Most adults that have reached the 4.0 or 4.5 level have only done so after many years or playing and practicing regularly.

Without having seen the player or knowing the coaches, I would say you are probably correct that this player had some natural ability and reached close to the ceiling of their potential quickly. Keep in mind though that many people that play tennis never ascend above the 3.5 or 4.0 rating their entire lives.

As far as the NTRP ratings themselves go - you are correct that they are a little bit exponential but not quite ten-fold or to the degree you mentioned.

From what I've seen, the margins of victory and what separates one level of player from another gets smaller as you go up the ratings scale. For example - an average 4.5 player might occasionally lose to a good 4.0 player - maybe because the 4.0 player is more fit or has a little bit better tactics and patience (fewer errors).

A player that is a true 5.0 level player would almost never lose to a 4.0 player and in fact, most of the points would probably be pretty lopsided, with the 5.0 player being in control of most (if not all) of them. As you look at players higher and higher on the ratings scale, they do pretty much everything a little better. Better 1st and 2nd serve, more consistent ground strokes, more aggressive in finishing points at the net, better tactics, etc.

What's interesting is, as good as a 5.0 level player is - and this is often true of the game of tennis as a whole - there is always someone who is better. That 5.0 player, who might have good shots and technique, and maybe played in college, would get completely demolished by a 6.5/7.0 level professional player. A 7.0 level player is someone that makes a living playing tennis and has been playing regularly (and frequently) since they were a child. There are just different levels of fitness, balance, strategy and experience at the 7.0 level that make the difference. Not to mention all kinds of other things like muscle memory and things that get developed over the course of many years of playing the sport.

Even among pro tennis players, you'll occasionally see scorelines like 6-0, 6-1 where one player was just having a bad day and their opponent was playing well. It doesn't take a whole lot sometimes for a match to be lopsided. Even as good as someone is that's ranked say, around 500 in the world (who is a 6.5 or 7.0 level player) - someone that is in the top 10 in the world would likely defeat them easily in a match - it happens all the time in the early rounds of grand slam events.

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    Actually, the actress was Raquel Welch, I read about her in Time magazine in the 1970s, remembered the vignette recently, and "fired away." Yes, if you're 7.0, see you at Wimbleton or the U.S. Open, but even then, there's a huge difference between say, 28th and 128th. The top 10-20 might be 7.5 or 8.0 compared to 7.0 for number 128. A 5.0 might be a local club champion/teaching pro, not get anywhere near US Open. – Tom Au Apr 25 '14 at 21:49
  • Here's in exponential model. In the whole world, there might be 500 7.0s; 5,000 6.0s; 50,000 5.0s; 500,000 4.0s; 5 million 3.0s; 50 million 2.0s; 500 million 1.0s who have picked up a racket and swung it. – Tom Au Apr 25 '14 at 22:00
  • Yeah those numbers (at least down to 6.0s) is probably pretty accurate. I've never seen any numbers on total tennis players globally but you could be correct. – jamauss Apr 25 '14 at 22:05
  • Speaking of the US Open - each spring/summer the USTA hosts these regional competitions that fall under their "US Open Playoffs" competition. The winner of which gets a wild card into (I think) the US Open qualifying tournament. Lots of good players enter (good collegiate D1 players, top juniors etc.) and most get beaten badly by low-level pros competing for that spot. Even at the top levels of the game there are multiple levels of skill. – jamauss Apr 25 '14 at 22:08
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    I was under the impression that this was basically the pool for teaching pros. The best ones go to the grand slam events, the middle ones to the regional "circuits" and the bottom of a very good crop to the clubs. I did overstate by saying that the local club pro was "likely" to be 6.0 as opposed to "possibly." – Tom Au Apr 25 '14 at 22:22
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Absolutely no way you can learn something in three days(or 3 weeks, even 3 months), let alone reaching "intermediate level"(for which 3 years are probably still not quite enough). Also if all those tens of thousands of coaches are 6.0 out of 7.0 then this rating scale will be a joke.

The claim is highly unlikely. Possibly it's downright scam(best possible scenario: the "coach" lied to the actress in a typical commercial setting to make her feel "wonderful", worse, they are trying to do a brainless "advertising" effort assuming their readers are idiots. It's the 70s after all...)

Probably this is more suited as a comment but I currently still don't have the reputation to do so... Just wanted to express something strongly. Sorry if I sound rude.

  • The answer is fine. Maybe take out the "invective" so that is sounds objective, and not rude. But I like hearing from someone who "wanted to express something strongly." – Tom Au Apr 25 '14 at 22:20
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You can make huge strides in even three weeks assuming you're practicing every day. Three months is enough time to reach 4.5 level. Kids progress the fastest. A motivated kid can go from a complete beginner to a somewhat advanced player in three months. My daughter (and I) teaches tennis and has a little Asian boy who is 8 years old, He has all of the fundamentals of his ground strokes down and is way ahead of untrained recreational players who have been playing for 25 years. He's been playing for only few months. Tennis isn't that difficult. It's the discipline to practice ten times more and ten times longer than you think you need to that's difficult.

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    While this is a useful post that points out an implicit issue in the question, perhaps making that issue explicit would tie it together? i.e. that the ranking numbers in question are not on a "simple" mathematical rule as it presupposes. – Nij Oct 16 '18 at 5:28

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