Tired of the same interclub, local and club sponsored matches? Do you feel as if you're not improving and find yourself looking for excuses not to play? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, what you need is a new challenge and here it is --- take the next step up the tennis ladder and enter a "REAL" tournament, a USTA sanctioned event.
Competing in a sanctioned tournament will give you the chance to see new faces across the net and, for the player who has become bored with the game and disillusioned by their lack of progress, the tournament atmosphere can provide just the injection of enthusiasm needed.
WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
The first step in competing in a sanctioned tournament is to obtain a tournament schedule. There is a good possibility that your club will have one posted in their lobby, if not, you can have one sent to you by calling the United States Tennis Association located in White Plains, N.Y. The phone number is (914) 696-7000.
Once you have the schedule, your must decide which level of tournament you wish to enter. First there is the "Open" division and if you choose to compete in this division you will have your work cut out for you. The draw will most likely be filled with teaching pros, college or ex-college players, highly ranked juniors, or even an occasional lower ranked touring pro who is in the area and looking for a bit of practice. This division is very tough!
After the "Open" division there are NTRP rated tournaments. These generally begin for players with an NTRP rating of 3.0 up to 5.0 with most club players falling into the 3.0 to 4.5 categories. If you do not know where you would fall within these categories, ask your pro for guidance.
Finally, if you are approaching your 35th birthday you may want to consider Junior Vet tournaments for players 35 and over. These tournaments are age group events and usually are broken down into five year increments beginning with 35 and over all the way up to 90 and over.
As you can see, there are quite a few options and again, your club pro can point in the right direction.
Your next step is to look through the schedule and find an event that is convenient both in time and location. I would suggest choosing a tournament relatively close to you. This cuts down on travel and also makes it easier for any family and friends who may wish to support your effort.
After you have chosen your tournament and circled the date on your calendar, you must then call the club hosting the event and request that they send you an entry form. When you receive it, notice the entry deadline and be sure to get your completed form in the mail with plenty of time to spare. Also notice how far away the tournament is and, if necessary, make arrangements for accommodations. There should also be directions to the tournament on the entry, so copy them down.
The entry will ask you for your USTA #. All players competing in sanctioned tournaments must be a member of the United States Tennis Association. If you are not a member you can usually join the USTA at the tournament for a nominal fee, be sure to ask.
The entry should also tell you what surface the tournament is on.
Take note of this and then make every effort to practice on a similar surface during the weeks leading up to your debut.
You will probably be instructed to call the club hosting the tournament a few days prior to the event in order to get your starting time. When doing this it is a good idea to confirm your directions.
Also, ask how many matches are being played each day and how many there are in the draw so you can be sure to bring enough change of
clothes should you happen to go all the way to the finals. Don't laugh -- it may happen.
It would be a good idea at this time to find out if there are practice courts available to the players as you will want to warm up before your match. If the answer is no, be sure to warm up before you leave for the tournament.
WHAT TO BRING
If your tournament is a far enough distance that you will be spending the night plan on bringing at least two bags. One to take on the court and another for your extra and off-court clothes.
You should plan on bringing the following for your on-court needs:
- At least two rackets, relatively newly strung as well as a couple of sets of extra strings just in case.
- A warm-up suit and/or sweater.
- An extra pair of shoes.
- Enough change of clothing to carry you through the finals. Also bring a couple of extra shirts and socks. You may want to change both during the course of your match.
- Wristbands, headbands, hat.
- Over-grip or a replacement grip.
- Tape or band-aids in case a blister pops up.
- A big water jug.
- Bananas or energy bars if you like them during a match.
- Sun screen if the tournament is outdoors.
- Jump rope (We'll explain later).
THE BIG DAY
If you are scheduled to play in the morning be sure to get up a couple of hours early to allow yourself plenty of time to wake up, eat and get focused on your match.
Make certain that you get to the tournament site roughly an hour before you are scheduled to play. This will leave you with plenty of time to stretch, hit on the courts, and get yourself mentally prepared for your match. Remember, there are penalties for being late for your match so don't chance it, get there with plenty of time to spare.
When you arrive at the site, immediately check in at the tournament desk and find out if the matches are running on schedule. Often they are not, so it is a good idea to bring along a book or some tapes to help you pass the time.
Try to arrange to hit a few balls for 20 minutes or so before your match, and try to do it as close to your scheduled time as possible. Ideally try to get on the court thirty minutes before your match.
Be sure to warm up all your shots for approximately twenty minutes. That will give you ten minutes to change your shirt, fill your water jug and be ready for the match.
If you cannot get on a court take your jump rope out in the locker room or parking lot and easily jump or run in place for five or ten minutes. Try to break a sweat.
This pre-match warm-up will help to get the blood pumping and also relieve some of your pre-match jitters. It might also help to get you a quick start on your opponent who may not have thought of doing the same.
YOU DID IT!!
After the match, if you have won, return the balls, report the scores at the tournament desk and they will tell you when your next match is scheduled. You will usually have at least an hour between matches and what you do during this time is quite important. Allow yourself five or ten minutes to bask in the glory of your win and then turn your attention to your next match.
Stretch, shower, get something to eat, and, if possible, scout your next opponent. Often you will be playing the winner of a match that is in progress so it is an excellent opportunity to sit down and watch that match to scout both players.
This is also the time to write in your tournament notebook which you have just started. In it you will record all your results as well as thoughts regarding each match.
What was the players style of play, was he right-handed or left-handed, did he have a weakness, why did you win, why did you lose? This way if you play an opponent again six months down the road, you can look in your book and come up with a strategy.
If you have more than an hour between matches it is a good idea to get away from the club for a while. Tennis tournaments are notorious for their tremendous amount of dead time. The last thing you want to do is go out onto the court after sitting in the lobby of the club for two hours getting physically stiff and mentally stale.
Go out and take a drive around the area but be sure to get back to the club in plenty of time to go through your pre-match warm-up routine.
If you lose your first match don't despair, be proud of yourself. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself on the line and you did it! Be objective and try to figure out what you did well and what you
need to work on. Write it down in your notebook and show it to your club pro when you get home. This will give you something to work on in order to prepare for your next tournament.
Whether you won or lost, you will be somewhat of a hero when you return to your club. Competing in a USTA tournament makes a statement. You're saying that, "I'm no longer just a club hacker, I'm a serious tennis player." Your buddies from your Wednesday night league will all gather around to hear your "war story." Tell it with pride and go ahead, exaggerate a little, you deserve it.