Tulsa, Oklahoma, is no tennis mecca. Yet the Tucker Tennis Academy
there, based at the RH91
tennis club, has achieved remarkable results. More than 225 players come to Tucker two to three times a week to train on 20 courts, with 13 coaches on staff. Tucker pupils have become a force in national junior competition. From 2001 to 2008, they earned one “ball” trophy at USTA national tourneys, but from 2009 until 2016 they collectively captured 26 balls. In 2014, the USTA designated Tucker its Developmental Program of the Year.
Most tennis academies recruit new players from around the nation, or even the world. Tucker is different: 98 percent of their athletes grew up locally. Only a handful enroll from far away, and they live not at the academy, but with local families.
“In a tennis academy, you need to define a pathway for development,” says Trent Tucker, the academy’s founder and director. “There can be different kinds of politics regarding how you navigate kids along that pathway. Everyone wants to move up. How do you define improvement? Players ask, ‘Do I have to take a test?’ UTR gives us a clearly defined, neutral scale that we have found to be very accurate in our internal practices. It’s not coaches playing politics: the ratings are based purely on competitive results. We’ve been using UTR quite some time and have tracked it through a whole summer—it was scary accurate. The decimal-point UTR ratings could predict a 6-4, 6-4 match. We were almost comically shocked by how accurate it was!
"UTR gives us a clearly defined, neutral scale that we have found to be very accurate in our internal practices. It’s not coaches playing politics: the ratings are based purely on competitive results."
“It also works with lower-level athletes,” he continues. “UTR has changed the vocabulary our kids use. Now they talk more about ratings than rankings. We are always in conversation with college coaches looking for recruits: that’s a huge part of our business. They love the way UTR lets them compare our players globally. They’ll say, ‘We’re talking to a boy in France who’s a 13.6 and a 13.9 in Australia—what is your kid’s UTR?’”
Tucker Tennis Academy uses UTR to place its athletes in the development process. They play matches every day during the summer, with everyone rated 8.00 or under playing at one time, and all with UTRs over 8.00 at another time. The academy maximizes competitiveness by making sure matches pair players rated within 1.0 of each other; a girl rated 9.11 might play those rated as low as 8.11 or as high as 10.11.
Once a month, the academy posts a printout of UTRs for the top 100 players in the academy. For fun, they also include UTRs for pros like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, just to give the kids something to shoot for. In addition, Tucker will post UTRs for college players at places like Berkeley, Stanford, USC, and Illinois. “They can look at the numbers and say, ‘OK, I need to get to 13.3 or so to have a shot at Stanford,’ ” Tucker explains.
The focus on ratings has also shifted the young athletes' attitude toward “playing down.” It used to be that many players didn’t want to play against “weaker” opponents. Now they realize that if they can win decisively against someone rated below them, that can actually improve their UTR.
UTR also enables Tucker to organize innovative tournaments. For example, for the past three years, they’ve brought together teams from the Seattle and Las Vegas USTA regional training centers , plus the Canadian national juniors and another academy, to play in Las Vegas. Each squad has brought 10 male and female athletes with UTRs from 7.00 to 13.00. Using level-based play, they’ve competed in all formats: boys versus girls, 12-year-olds against 15-year-olds, 13-year-olds against 18-year-olds. “It was totally fun,” Tucker recalls. “Everybody made new friends. I had one girl who’d made the quarters of the US Open juniors playing 15- and 16-year-old boys.”
“Young players need confidence. You don’t want them to play too far out of their range and get killed—kids go home crying. They see no light at the end of the tunnel.”
In December 2016, Tucker brought 25 players to compete in a UTR Challenge Cup event with the Kansas City United Tennis (KCUT) academy in Kansas City, Missouri. The players were from 8 to 14 years old and the event restricted play to those with UTRs within 1.0 of each other. “After three days, we totaled up the number of games won by each academy, and it was 548 to 546!” Tucker says. “So you tell me how accurate UTR is! It’s an incredible tool.” He hopes to do more academy exchanges, given how easy UTR makes it to match good opponents.
“Young players need confidence,” he adds. “You don’t want them to play too far out of their range and get killed—kids go home crying. They see no light at the end of the tunnel. Now, a kid will call me, very excited, and say, ‘I played a guy who’s more that 1.0 over me and I lost, 6-4, 6-4!’”
Fuel your own development, and than of those around you with UTR. Subscribe for free here.