Tennis Industry magazine


How to make life easier for recreational tournament players

By Dr. Robert F. Heller

The tennis industry has made a great effort to attract new players through a number of innovative initiatives, such as free tennis lessons, Cardio Tennis and World TeamTennis. But the needs of a significant number of existing players have been somewhat ignored.

I’m talking about those players who would like to test their mettle by competing in sanctioned tournaments. I believe many more players between the ages of 35 and 55 would compete if conditions were more favorable to their needs and life circumstances.

Over the past few months, I entered a number of tournaments only to find that there weren’t enough entrants in my age category (55s) and other adult categories to hold the tournament, or that I was forced to play in lower age divisions to compete. In some cases, participation was so sparse that if you entered the tournament, you were already in the semifinals, and in one instance, the final! According to tennis friends, colleagues, and officials I have spoken with, there is a growing trend toward fewer adult players between ages 40 and 60 competing in sanctioned tournaments.

I know many excellent players who could compete in sanctioned tournaments but don’t for two main reasons: time and physical demands.

Most mid-life-aged adults are still busy earning a living and tending to the needs of their family. Traditional tournaments require far too great a sacrifice for most adults. Some tournaments may start on a Thursday with the final ending on Sunday. Many working adults cannot juggle their schedule to play during the week. To fit in a tournament over a weekend using traditional scoring requires the sacrifice of the entire weekend if the player succeeds and progresses toward the final.

The second impediment to greater participation in tournaments is related to excessive physical demands associated with playing one or two singles matches a day. With traditional scoring and an average match lasting two hours, a player could find himself on the court for four hours or more, and that doesn’t include doubles.

Even if one had the time, physical health, and inclination to prepare for such a challenge, it would be difficult to do so. Most facilities limit singles play to 1 to 1½ hours of court time, which is probably, about half of what is needed to safely and effectively compete.

Fortunately, there are alternatives available. The USTA permits tournament directors considerable flexibility in running tournaments. The bottom line is that players could actually play “more” matches in a “shorter” time period than they currently do. This could be done in a number of ways including: a third set being determined by a tie-break, matches with “no-ad” scoring, or matches determined by eight or 10 games.

Thinking out of the box for a moment, club practices could be adopted for sanctioned tournaments where the winner of a match is determined by the best two of three sets, or whoever is ahead at the end of 90 minutes. Another option is to play a tournament across two or more weekends. Using these options, the outcome of a match will be more likely a battle of tennis skills rather than an “endurance contest” where only the fittest survive. Less time on the courts would reduce the risk of injuries, skin cancer, and physical exhaustion, making tournament play more attractive to many.

By incorporating these and other modest changes, more tennis players would likely compete in sanctioned tournaments in both singles and doubles categories, providing increased revenue to the host facilities and a steady renewal of USTA memberships.

I have no doubt that if the USTA and sponsoring facilities properly promote “adult-friendly” tournaments, everyone will end up a winner.

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About the Author

Dr. Robert F. Heller  is a psychologist and consultant in the areas of performance enhancement and stress management. He is the author of Mental Skills for Match Play and Mental Toughness. For information on telephone consultation, products, and other services, contact,, or 561-451-2731. He is based in Boca Raton, Fla.



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