N.T.R.P. National Tennis Rating Program
Most experienced Players will be able to tell you what they feel their tennis rating is if you were to ask. However not all have been formally rated by the official National Tennis Rating Program generally administered by USTA Rating Officials.
Many Tennis players determine their level by those they play against. If I play a match against one who proclaims themselves as a 4.0 level player and I can hold my own with that player, it would be a natural consensus that I would then consider myself a 4.0 level player. While others have participated in a rating program where they were matched up in doubles and ultimately given a rating as a result of how they faired.
You might even have heard the term, 'Sand Bagger' in reference to Tennis Tournaments. This is a person who has an official rating lower than they obviously can play the game which basically means they will be the odds on favorite to win if their opponents are true to their rating.
In Locally Sponsored Tournaments, you provide your USTA Rating when you sign up. If your rating claims you to be a 3.5 level player, the Tournament Officials will allow you to compete in any match that is 3.5 level or above.
However if you are truly a 4.5 level player yet your rating proclaims you to be 3.5, chances are you will beat most 3.5 level players, hence the Sandbagger.
If you would like to know how the USTA determines what your rating is, view the information on this link that will give you a guide to go by:
Sandbagging, NTRP Ratings and More
NTRP ratings were traditionally given by a certified pro - you made an appointment for a private session or attended a rating clinic, paid a fee and were put through drills for evaluation, then your level was assigned and put on record. About 5 or so years ago the system was changed to allow "self rating" IE: a player joining the USTA for the first time (or after a lapse of 5+ years from active participation) could, with the aid of a brief written quiz, self-evaluate and assign an NTRP rating. NTRP ratings stick with the player for 5 years or unless the player is re-rated up or down by the system, or the player makes a formal request to the USTA be re-rated.
Together with the self-rating system is the "dynamic rating" system, which continually monitors a player's level of performance in USTA competition. The formula for evaluating a player's rating is kept secret and is generated completely by computer. Not even Local League Coordinators are privvy to it. The dynamic rating system is generally referred to as the "3-strike" system because it penalizes a player after being rated higher than his self-appointed number three times in a season. (I can give more details of exactly how this system operates upon request) The purpose of the 3-strike system is to discourage players from "sandbagging" or rating themselves below their ability in USA League Tennis competition. In the Southern California section (SCTA) this system has been strictly enforced the past few years and has proven to be damaging to those individuials, teams and team captains who try to use the self-rating system to unfair advantage.
Although I feel that eliminating teaching pros personally rate players was a significant loss (eliminated for economic reasons, BTW), the dynamic rating system has proven to be generally effective. The biggest fault in the system is, in my opinion, that new players and captains are not made sufficiently aware of the repurcussions of abusing the system either inadvertently or out of malice. A player may opt to rate himself conservatively with the notion that he can play up but cannot play down, or because he fears he might not get accepted onto a higher ranked team; captains love to take on promising new players with no prior rating and may encourage them to play at a lower rating because of inexperience. Absence due to injury, health issues or prolonged inactivity from the sport are other excuses for captains to under-rate players, although these can all be legitimate reasons for downgrading one's rating. It would serve everyone well to have a thorough explanation of the rules posted before self-rating players. I know that LLC's remind their captains of this situation every season, but until the rules are enforced on a player/team the ramifications are not always understood.
There is another type of "sandbagging" that occurs in USTA tennis, also known as "stacking". In this scenario a captain will put a weak player/doubles team in the #1 position in a match and a strong player/doubles team in the #3 position in hopes of gaining an overall advantage to win the match. This, unfortunately, puts the weak player/doubles team in the sacrifice position IE: expected to lose in order to allow the stronger team to win on the lower court. With or without the players' consent it is a brutal tactic which does not engender good sportsmanship and team unity, and it doesn't necessarily work logistically either. It is banned in many private club leagues even though it is legal in USTA competition. No player or team plays to lose, but to scheme to win even at the expense of players' dignity makes it a vacuous victory. A winning strategy may include an occasional sacrifice, but it should come from the player voluntarily and not be demanded by a captain or teammates.
Finally, the NTRP rating is only a portion of a player's profile and should not be given too much importance. The rating system is a guideline and not perfect by any means. If you read the definitions of the levels you will see that they are nebulous at best and not necessarily representative of the ability of a given player (see Coach's NTRP Guidelines link above). You might be able to easily defeat a higher ranked player on one occasion and get stomped by a lower rated player another. There is so much more to tennis than mechanics, and success or defeat in USTA league competition consistently demonstrates that fact. If you identify exclusively with your numeric rating (such as refusing to play with people rated below you or fearing players rated higher) you will miss the greater gain in the sport, which is the experience of playing, not winning or losing. Meanwhile, for those of us who do like to compete, the NTRP rating system gives us an orientation and goal in our performance.