“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”– Pericles
As Pericles wisely observed about politics, we all have a stake in tournaments that are run skillfully, safely, fairly, and enjoyably.
Several senior players and tournament directors have shared their expertise and experience about how we can improve national and sectional senior tournaments. Here are their thoughtful suggestions on a wide range of important issues.
We would like you to ponder these suggestions. Then feel free to comment on them and offer your own suggestions so that senior tennis in America reaches its vast potential.
Jimmy Parker, who has been ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in every age group from 35 to 75 and won 137 national senior singles and doubles titles, and 26 world championships:
Over the years, all of us have heard stories of players who have suffered heart attacks while playing tennis. For those that didn’t make it, we often hear “Well, he passed doing what he loved to do.” But given the choice, everyone would opt to live to play another day!
That’s where AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillators) come in. These devices can restore normal heartbeat, and dramatically increase the chances that someone with cardiac arrest or arrhythmia will survive. We’re talking a 60% to 90% increase in their odds! Importantly, the machines give verbal instructions that allow someone with no experience to operate them. They can be used in conjunction with CPR until medical help arrives.
The cost of a machine ranges from $1,200 to $2,000. Your NSMTA has a program which provides a $500 stipend to any club which runs a national tournament, and doesn’t yet have an AED. Scores of tennis players can attest to their effectiveness.
Shouldn’t all tennis facilities have them? Let’s help save lives!
John Mayotte, ranked No. 2 nationally in 70 singles in 2018:
I suggest we ask Tennis magazine, Florida Tennis, Inside Tennis, and other American tennis magazines to write at least one feature a year about senior tennis. It’s also vital that tournament staffers cooperate fully with local television and newspapers reporters to provide information and photos each day so that tournament matches and players are covered properly. Remember that reporters especially want to highlight area players, elite players, and players with highly interesting back stories.
The elite players and the many others who compete regularly in national and sectional tournaments are amazing in many ways. Despite various injuries and ailments and declining physical assets, they compete with the same passion as they did 20, 40, and 60 years ago, and their level of play is impressive.
Senior players deserve their fair share of coverage in the print media, on the Internet, and on TV, especially Tennis Channel. These remarkable athletes also inspire others to continue playing and competing. Senior players prove tennis is indeed the sport for a lifetime.
Drew Meyers, currently a Vice President of USTA Southern, and has served two terms on the USTA Adult Competition Committee:
For senior divisions (55 and up), the social aspect is important. Tournaments with a robust social component (player dinners, for example), are great fun, and in my experience, have a high return rate for players year in and year out. The two top senior events in Louisiana, the Bocage Super Cat 2 in Baton Rouge and the Cat 1 60 and 65 clay courts in New Orleans, emphasize this aspect, which is well-received by the players.
For the younger age divisions (35s-45s), the length of a tournament seems to impact participation. These players are often parents of younger children and also work full time, and as a result, they cannot be away from home for 5-6 days. Tournaments with modified formats that provide an appropriate amount of play within a shorter time frame (1-, 2-, and 3-day events) may work best for them. So shorter events for the younger divisions may be a way to improve this part of senior tennis.
Ned Buckman, director of the National Men’s Super Senior Hard Court Tournament for players ages 75 through 90 at Laguna Woods, California, for the past 45 years:
Our situation is somewhat different from many other super senior tournaments. Laguna Woods is a retirement village of some 17,000 residents, and our tennis facility is a part of this community, and, as such, is not a privately run tournament for profit.
Players of our age are reluctant to travel under any circumstances, and many of these players have already accumulated a significant history of tournament play. Therefore, we have made it our goal to provide as much incentive as possible to generate a larger entry.
We not only award the gold silver and bronze balls supplied by the USTA, but a full feed-in consolation with at least a 32 draw with prizes for the consolation winners and fourth-place finisher in the main draw.
We also provide a Continental breakfast at our club every morning, a complimentary dinner on Tuesday (with a modest fee for guests), a Subway lunch on Wednesday, and an ice cream social on Thursday. We also offer hotel rate accommodations. Additionally, every entrant receives a shirt and a bunch of other goodies. Even with all of this, we still have sufficient funds for additional social activities for the club members. Finally, our tournament has the lowest entry fee of any of the SS Cat 1 tournaments.
In sum, I believe that if TDs want to increase their profit, it would be in their best interest to generate as much incentive for players to attend as possible.
My first suggestion involves preserving the traditional scoring system in senior tournaments because I believe tennis has one of the best scoring systems in all of sports. All main draw matches should continue to be best-two-of-three sets. East Coast Florida Tournaments in 2019 used a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of the traditional third set for the 75, 80, and 85 divisions. This much-abbreviated set is clearly not a fair test of skill, mental toughness, and stamina, which are three of the great essentials of tournament tennis. Therefore, only traditional scoring should be used in USTA-sanctioned tournaments.
My second suggestion is for consolation events, which are very important because they give more players a chance to play more matches. Players who lose their first match should be required to sign up for the consolation event. They should not automatically be entered in the consolation event because this practice often results in no-shows.
Neal Newman, winner of 40 USTA national doubles titles, 4 ITF world doubles titles (with Larry Turville), and ITF two world team championships.
I suggest that every tournament arrange for an on-site athletic trainer/physical therapist/massage therapist. Senior players suffer from a wide array of physical pains and injuries—knee, hip, elbow, wrist, shoulder, back, ankle, etc. As a body-deficit-inclined player, I have worn various braces for 35 years. An athletic trainer on site can make the difference between your performing capably or being forced to retire. I really appreciate it when my pain recedes so I can play and my joints can take the impact of ball-striking. It also helps if braces, compression sleeves, and other medical supplies are available for purchasing if needed.
At the recent Category 2 senior nationals at Academia Sánchez-Casal in Naples, Florida, Joanne Nicodemis, LMT, from Body Helix was available to the players. Her services were utilized consistently and much appreciated. Paul Settles, who runs a player-friendly, national senior father-son tournament in Claremont, California, always arranges for some body-work experts to be at the tournament to help the players.
Let’s encourage this practice to be the norm!
Steve Solomon, director of Wilson-Super Cat 2, Crabel Masters, national 60 hard courts, 90 nationals, and National H & W; vice chair of USTA Adult Competition Committee for four years; and author of USTA Tournament Director Handbook:
As senior players age, we continue to have serious responsibilities involving our home, work, health, and myriad small problems. Therefore, to stage successful and largely trouble-free tournaments, directors need to understand who our customers, the players, are and to try our best to cater to their needs.
It is extremely important that National Category 1 and 2 tournaments schedule the entire week’s matches in advance. So whenever you put the draw online, you should include the schedule at least four or five days early.
This early scheduling enables players to plan their personal and family schedules. Several big tournaments, such as the Wilson-Super Cat 2 and the National H & W, have followed our lead and schedule correctly. It takes some work and understanding, but you can schedule events with more than 700 players competing in two or three categories for five or six days. In some instances, you may be able to schedule only up to the semifinals, but that works. When you get to semis and players compete in different divisions or categories, it’s difficult to predict who will win and play in the semis. Also, it doesn’t matter because the players know they may play on the weekend anyway.
To handle scheduling this way and deal with the various needs and requests of players, you need to understand and appreciate players’ problems. You have to be reasonable and flexible on some matters, but also firm on other matters where you clearly explain to players that you cannot accommodate them on certain requests.
Ron Tonidandel, winner of six Gold Balls, six Silver Balls, five Bronze Balls in Father-Son doubles and two Bronze Balls in 80 singles:
Here are some ideas for improving tournaments and getting more players to enter.
Have competent officials always present — Referees should be on duty from start to finish to deal with any questions or disputes that may arise, and especially at crucial junctures. For example, a Referee walking away from a match when a 3rd set tiebreaker is starting is totally wrong and unacceptable.
Respect players’ rights and well-being — tournament officials should know and comply with rules regarding matches per day and the time between matches, as follows: USTA: 65-80 2 matches, 85-90 2 matches, only one singles. The minimum rest between matches is for 50-90 events is 90 minutes, and 2 hours if the apparent temperature (combined index of heat and humidity) reaches 90 degrees. Also, “When a Referee has sufficient time available, the Referee should provide players with an adequate amount of rest and not just a minimal amount of rest.” Comment, USTA Reg III.C.1. Many officials do not even seem to be aware of these rules, let alone apply them, at the players’ peril. Players’ rights and well-being are disregarded frequently and wrongly.
Promote and conduct meaningful consolations — More effort needs to be put into consolations and participation encouraged. Right now they’re almost meaningless and often not even held. A Cat I winner gets 1,000 points—a Cat I consolation winner gets a handful of points. This is ridiculous and should be changed to provide incentive for players (a) to play consolations, and (b) to finish the consolation and not default after winning one or more matches, which now is commonplace.
Ed Trost, director of the Super Category II Wilson World Tennis Classic, the largest USTA-sanctioned senior tournament, for the past 14 years:
As a tournament director, I adopted much of what I had learned from my previous life as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies in the areas of customer service and sales strategies. Here are three highly important and much-appreciated player-focused strategies.
Return phone calls and emails promptly — You should make as a priority returning emails and phone calls from players or prospective players within 24 hours, if not sooner. Players want to feel that the TD cares, and this is one mutually beneficial way of showing that. Over the years, players often commented about how great it was to get a quick reply.
Listen to players — TDs should welcome constructive criticism. As Ben Franklin noted, “Critics are your friends because they point out your faults.” Of course, players are not always right. But even when they are only partly right, their insight or suggestion can spark a discussion that can spark a solution to a problem. So listen carefully, patiently, and respectfully to critical players and informed spectators.
Post draws and schedules early — Whenever possible, ensure that draws and a FULL schedule (with perhaps the final days as an exception) are available to players at least one week before the first day of the tournament. This allows players to make travel and other plans they require far enough in advance.
These are just a few of the ways a tournament director can demonstrate their “player first” mentality. What other best practices do you employ?
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I would like to thank these players and tournament directors for their valuable information and advice to advance senior tennis.If every tournament adopted these splendid suggestions, many more seniors would enter tournaments and their experiences would be more enjoyable than ever.
Paul Fein has received more than 40 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with an Elite rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England. His websites are www.tennisconfidential.com and www.tennisquotes.com. His email address is: email@example.com.
“Just because you’re not interested in politics doesn’t mean politics doesn’t have an interest in you,” Pericles said.
This timeless aphorism applies to tennis politics. Ranking systems may not interest every tournament player. But they should because every player receives a ranking and every player’s ranking should reflect his actual tournament record. Put differently, no one should lose in the rankings what he’s won fair and square on the courts.
What are the criteria required for an accurate—and thus fair—ranking system?
And what’s wrong with the much-criticized USTA’s senior men’s ranking system that counts only 4 tournaments for a national ranking?
The worst flaw in the current senior national rankings is that not all tournament results count. Because the top 100 men’s singles players in the 55-60-65-70-75 divisions averaged 6.74 tournaments (from Jan. 1 to Dec. 15, 2014) and 6.38 tournaments (from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015 *), an average of
2.74 tournaments — 41% — were not counted in the “Best 4” rankings for 2014; and an average of
2.38 tournaments — 37% — were not counted in the “Best 4” rankings for 2015.
The specific 2014 and 2015 tournament participation breakdown averages are as follows:
The first sine qua non of all tennis ranking systems historically is that all tournament results must count. This principle applies to all regular-season and playoff results in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA—both for team standings and individual player statistics.
Anything less would sully and invalidate the standings and individual statistics of these major sports leagues. You can imagine the outrage by players and fans if the NBA decided to throw out the Golden State Warriors’ 20 worst games or Lebron James’ 20 least productive games.
Tennis’ time-tested tradition of counting all tournament results ended when the ATP adopted a “Best-14” ranking system in 1990. Its tenuous rationale was that this innovation would induce or bribe unwilling players to play at least 14 tournaments, only if the ATP threw out the results of their worst tournaments.
The “Best 14” succeeded in increasing the average number of singles tournaments played—but it also decreased Davis Cup and doubles participation, while not decreasing participation in exhibition events. Worst of all, it ruined the ATP ranking system by producing inaccurate rankings.
Today’s ATP and WTA rankings systems are a hybrid in the sense that the four Grand Slam events and nine Masters 1000 events and four Premier Mandatory events are “mandatory” and thus automatically count in the rankings. The rest of the 17 ATP and 16 WTA tournaments that count come from players’ best non-mandatory tournaments. For many pro players, 1 to 10 of their tournaments still do not count in the rankings. A ranking system must count all results to produce accurate, and thus fair, rankings.
The second sine qua non of a valid ranking system is that it must use a point average that divides the total number of points earned by the total number of tournaments played. A point average system uses a “minimum divisor.” The fairest “minimum divisor” for 45 to 80 Super Senior age divisions is 6. Why?
First, a national ranking is always extremely important, but especially so in a country with 17 sections that vary greatly in strength and depth. At least 6 tournaments provide sufficient tournaments to measure accurately everyone’s record.
Second, 6 tournaments is a reasonable minimum number, considering that only one national tournament is required to be eligible for a national ranking.
The total number of tournaments that count in current “Best-whatever-number” ranking systems is analogous to the number used as the “minimum divisor” in point-average ranking systems. The “minimum divisor” simply means that if, for example, you play fewer than 6 tournaments, your point total is still divided by 6 to determine your point average. If you play more than 6 tournaments, your point total is divided by the exact number of tournaments you play to determine your point average.
Have Super Senior players cared about the “Best 4” rule? Based on the aforementioned evidence, they have not cared. If they truly had great financial difficulty playing 4 tournaments, as the USTA claims, why did only 11% of the 500 ranked players in 2014 and again only 11% of the 481 ranked players in 2015 play in exactly 4 tournaments? And, even among that 11%, were there reasons other than financial hardship why they did not play 5 or more, and perhaps many more, tournaments? The only way we can know for sure is to ask that 11%.
However, we do know that Super Senior players decide to enter a given tournament—or not enter a given tournament—as well as enter a given number of tournaments during a given year for various reasons.
These reasons, besides the expenses involved, include, but are not limited to:
Once again, no player should wrongfully lose in a flawed ranking system what he rightfully won in tournament competition.
Therefore, to produce fair rankings and to increase player participation, in 2019 the USTA should increase to 5 the number of tournaments that count. At the end of 2019, in consultation with our National Senior Men’s Tennis Association, the USTA should evaluate both the tournament participation numbers and the players’ conclusions, and then determine how many tournaments should count in 2020. As recommended earlier, 6 tournaments is the ideal minimum number.
The third criterion is the awarding of points based on how many rounds a player or doubles team advances in a tournament. This formula started in 1973 when the ATP created the sport’s first computer rankings. Before that, rankings were determined by international, national, and sectional committees which based their rankings substantially, but not totally, on the magnitude and number of a player’s wins and losses. Specifically, that meant terrific wins (viz., wins over players with much better records) greatly helped one’s ranking, while good wins (viz., wins over players with somewhat better records) somewhat helped one’s ranking. Conversely, terrible losses (viz., losses to players with much worse records) greatly hurt one’s ranking, while bad losses (viz., losses to players with somewhat worse records) somewhat hurt one’s ranking. How many rounds one advanced, therefore, carried much less weight.
In retrospect, the ranking system used for our sport’s first 100 years made eminent sense. Why? Because unlike NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL teams which play nearly equal schedules, tennis players often do not, and sometimes the inequality is great. For example, Senior Player A can win a tournament in Portland, Maine, by beating opponents ranked No. 10, No. 20, and No. 30 in New England and earn 100 ranking points. During the same week, Senior Player B can win a tournament of the same ranking value in Los Angeles by beating superior players ranked No. 1, No. 5, No. 10 and No. 15 in Southern California, a much stronger and deeper section, and also earn 100 ranking points. Is that fair? Of course not. Therefore, not taking into account the quality of one’s opponent is the yet another serious flaw in the current USTA ranking system.
This injustice can be counteracted to a modest extent by awarding “bonus points”—as the ATP once did—based on the quality of the opponent. For example, at Category I tournaments, a win over the No. 1-ranked player would merit 100 points, and a win over the No. 2 player 99 points, all the way down to 1 point for a win over the No. 100-ranked player. At Category II tournaments, the bonus points would be half of that for Category I tournaments.
The fourth criterion is the importance and prestige of the tournament. Here the four national championships—clay, hard, grass, and indoors—are rightly rewarded with the most ranking points, 1,000 for the winner. Category II tournaments award 400 points to the winner. This criterion is justified, and the current point distribution is generally fair, both in terms of tournaments of differing importance and in terms of the round-by-round distribution.
Finally, the USTA will only diminish its flawed ranking system even more if it adopts two major features of the Universal Tennis Rankings (UTR). The first feature is “games won.” Prior to the UTR, no ranking system in history factored in the amount of games a player won in matches. Does it matter whether Player A decisively beats Player B 6-2, 6-2 or barely prevails 6-4, 4-6, 6-4? Not at all, because a win is a win and a loss is a loss. The same holds true in basketball, soccer, baseball, football, hockey, and the vast majority of head-to-head team and individual sports. UTR wrongly rewards players for close, competitive losses.
The second feature is “recent history.” UTR defines this criterion as a player’s last 30 matches in the past 12 months. The apparent goal is to indicate a player’s current form based on, in some cases, relatively recent results.
Using only the last 30 matches, however, presents several problems. A light playing schedule—due to injury, illness, or pregnancy—would mean those 30 matches, could easily be played in a two-year or even a three-year period. That would preclude any true measurement of how well a player is performing right now.
Even if the 30 matches take place during 12 or only 6 months, several variables can make a player’s results fluctuate. A key variable is the court surface. For example, from 2012 to 2017, Nadal won four French Open titles and eight Masters 1000 titles on clay. But once the European clay court circuit ended in early June, he floundered on grass, never even reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Personal problems, injuries, and illnesses can also make one’s results change suddenly and markedly. When recovered, these rejuvenated players can dramatically regain their form, as Federer showed when he captured the 2017 Australian Open after a six-month layoff.
For a comprehensive analysis of UTR, go to http://www.sportstarlive.com/columns/vantagepoint-paul-fein/rating-the-universal-tennis-ratings/article23363626.ece.
Just as we get the government we deserve, we get the ranking system we deserve. So get knowledgeable. Then get involved. Our NSMTA can help reform the USTA ranking system with your expertise and effort. We have the power to turn things around if we choose to do so.
Our new and exciting National Senior Men’s Tennis Association (NSMTA) will help senior men’s tennis reach its vast potential. The expertise, experience, and engagement of our hundreds of members will greatly advance senior men’s tennis—from the 35 to the 90 age divisions.
These critical areas should receive high priority:
Mini-Interview with Jimmy Parker
In each of my posts, I would like to do a mini-interview with a NSMTA member on an important topic. Jimmy Parker, our first president and one of the most successful senior players in history, is the first interviewee.
Do you consider the NSMTA’s relationship with the USTA our most important relationship with any other organization? And if so, why?
I do consider the NSMTA’s relationship with the USTA to be our most important relationship with another organization for the obvious reason that the USTA governs our sport, with all that entails. We recognize that, and want to work with—not against—the USTA in improving the experience of playing men’s senior tennis.
In what ways do you believe the NSMTA can influence and persuade the USTA to make policy and rule changes that will advance senior men's tennis in the U.S.?
That said, the USTA is a large, lumbering organization that moves slowly in making changes. The NSMTA, by its very nature, is smaller and nimbler. We will be able to do things without having them wend their way through the embedded political hierarchy of the USTA. For instance, in January, we inaugurated a new Category III doubles event in Florida with an innovative format—sanctioned by the USTA. The innovative format employs round-robins to qualify teams for the later rounds. Players are guaranteed at least three matches that way.
It takes motivated people to innovate, and hopefully, we can help point the way for the USTA in determining what works and what doesn’t. Realistically, it’s probably easier to affect policy than to get actual rule changes because the process of effecting rule change within the USTA is a somewhat cumbersome legalistic process that may require a couple years. Policy decisions within a committee usually require a less formal process. By having two of our NSMTA Board Members, Mas Kimball and Ed Trost, currently sitting on the USTA Adult Competition Committee, we hope to have a conduit from our organization to the USTA policymakers. However, we consider our mission broader than just our relationship with the USTA.
What else does the NSMTA’s mission entail?
We want to provide a forum for our members to interact with each other to enhance the community of men’s senior tennis. And in concert with the NSWTA, eventually enhance the community of senior tennis in general. Too often in the past, the USTA has directed minimal attention and minimal funding to the players who are literally fulfilling the USTA promise of a “Sport for a Lifetime.”
is a longtime tennis writer whose articles have been published in 25 countries. He's authored three tennis books, including Tennis Confidential, and received more than 40 writing awards, including Tennis Week magazine’s International Tennis Writer of the Year in 1991. As a super senior, he ranked No. 1 in singles in the New England 65 and 70 divisions for five years. He is honored to contribute to the National Senior Men's Tennis Association as a blogger.