USA Table Tennis is the official governing body for table tennis in the United States, responsible for sanctioning official table tennis tournaments within the country.
To establish the ranking between all the table tennis players in America, a rating system known as the USATT ratings was implemented.
We’ll explain how the rating system works, how it translates into play, and what a good USATT ranking is.
What is the USATT Ratings System?
The USATT rating system is the official rating system of United States Table Tennis, used to measure how good each player is relative to every other player.
It is based on the ELO rating system used in chess and many other sports.
The rating system is crucial to fair competition so that tournaments are played by players with similar levels of skill.
This is the reason why table tennis tournaments are so exciting to play.
Even if you’re a beginner, you might place first in a tournament if you play well given that you’ll be paired with players who play at a similar level as you.
The USATT rating system should also work as a way to analyze your development as a player. If your rating stalls, then you might have to rethink what’s preventing you from reaching a higher level.
We advise not to obsess over ratings, though. Ratings are also one of the reasons why players get so nervous when playing in tournaments. If you’re constantly thinking about your rating points, then it’ll be very hard for you to enjoy tournament play.
The rating system is also useful to determine how good you are in comparison to the rest of the player base. It’s used as a reference to let others know how good you are and for yourself to know how skillful other players are.
For example, if you’re playing matches at your club and you ask a certain player their rating, you’ll know before the match starts who the favorite and who the underdog is. This can help you to think of different ways in how the match will pan out.
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USATT Ratings and Level of Play
Since the USATT rating is expressed in numbers, you might not know what an 1100, a 1600, or a 2500-rated player looks like.
We’ll explain how a rating correlates to a player’s skill level so that you have a better idea of how the system works.
In this range, you will mostly find beginners who are starting to take the sport seriously or more experienced players who play just for fun.
Players in these levels often struggle to keep their attacks on the table. If you can consistently return the ball, you’ll win lots of matches, given that players at this level make lots of unforced mistakes.
These players are either very good “basement players” or beginners trying to learn proper table tennis techniques.
Serves aren’t very spinny and virtually all of them go long. Serve receive is also lacking and players might miss the same serve receive over and over again.
1000-1400: Early intermediates
These players are a step above beginners. They know how spin works and how to counteract it, but they often make mistakes when reading the amount of spin, especially on serve receives.
Lots of players in this range know how to loop, sometimes they can even loop on both sides, but their strokes are still inconsistent.
They are starting to serve well and their strokes might be technically sound, but they have timing issues and problems reading spin when playing matches, especially at tournaments when they might be a bit nervous.
They also often find it hard to deal with heavy topspin, so players who can open up with some degree of consistency often get lots of free points off of spinny open-ups.
Here’s an example from Jon, playing as an 1131 rated player in Atlanta, Georgia.
1400-1600: Intermediate players
These players now have a clear, determined strength. It might be that their forehand smash is strong, that they are good blockers, or that they are consistent, but there’s a clear strength that they can exploit to win matches.
These players are the ones that come to mind when we talk about “intermediate players”. They are often consistent at executing their games, but they often don’t know how to deal with opponents with contrasting strategies.
For example, consistent blockers might beat loopers, but they haven’t developed a consistent attack to beat choppers, so they stay at this level.
They are good at executing their strategy and they now have serves that play to their strengths.
I love this example from the ICC Table Tennis Centre, with both players having strong shots but prone to making lots of errors. The winner simply made fewer errors!
1600-1800: Upper intermediate
This is where match development comes into play. These players are differentiated from lower levels in that they actively try to develop the match in their favor. If they lose a game, they try to come out with different receives and a different game plan for the next one.
They are a bit more consistent than players below them but they still make unforced mistakes, which they can no longer afford if they want to progress through the rankings. Errors in this level start to be punished.
These players often execute heavy topspin shots. A 1700 or 1800 player often has years of experience and has played against all different playstyles.
Another factor that differentiates them from players below is that they are better at closing out games and might not get that nervous when the deciding points come.
As of the moment of writing, a 1700 rated player is in the top 27%.
Another example from the ICC Table Tennis Centre, you can see the jump in consistency from the intermediate range.
1800-2000: Early advanced
These players are entering advanced levels. They know how to adjust their tactics to a high standard and have a degree of variation and adaptability.
They also know how to return most serves and they can play a stable game. These players want to attack every long ball. They have a deeper tactical analysis and they can understand what their opponent wants to achieve, so they can look for ways to counteract that.
However, they still make mistakes, and this is what prevents them from reaching a higher level.
As of the moment of writing, a 1900 rated player is in the top 16%.
This example from the MIT Fall Open shows players who have developed the quality to cause their opponents to make mistakes. Serves are short, spinny, and tough to return.
These are the players that come to mind when we think of advanced players.
They know how to topspin on both sides with high levels of consistency, and they often have a stronger wing with which they can hit with good power.
Their serves are now very spinny and they can execute 3rd ball attacks with a high success rate.
Most of these matches are all about looping and returning loops and no longer about pushing and returning the ball to their opponent.
These players make few unforced mistakes and they look for every chance to attack.
It is also at this rating that players are usually better tacticians and they can put their strategies into play since they’ve now developed the necessary playing skills. They can also variate their tactics and play differently according to their opponent.
As of the moment of writing, a 2100 rated player is in the top 8%.
There are now fewer players at these higher levels of play. Players of this level might be the best players of smaller clubs and they sometimes struggle to find practice partners of the same level as them.
Players at this level are very advanced.
They know the ins and outs of the sport. They can execute lots of advanced techniques and they can hit with lots of power on one, or both sides.
They are also very consistent and make few mistakes. They attack every long serve and now know how to perform flicks to attack short serves.
These players are starting to push short given that whoever attacks first is usually going to win the point. There is a tactical battle for who gets the first attack, employing different types of serves and receives to attack before the opponent and get them on the backfoot.
Players of this level are few and far between. As of the moment of writing, a 2350 rated player is in the top 2%. There are less than 300 players in the whole country that are rated 2350 or above.
These are still club-level players who struggle to compete against professionals, but it’s worth looking back at the 1000-1400 example and see the total difference in the sport!
2500+: Pros and semi-pros
These players are either professional players or top amateurs. Lots of these players are part of national squads of their respective age categories, and some even compete in professional table tennis leagues abroad.
Players in this category have almost mastered their playing style. The separation between these players and the ones better than them lie in just small details.
They try to attack from every possible angle and they want to end the point as soon as possible. Players in this range know how to hit with massive spin and power, and they can do it consistently.
They can place the ball anywhere they want on the table to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses, and their footwork is usually second to none.
They are also massively experienced, some have played in international events and know how to play against every playing style.
A player with a 2650 rating would place in the top 30 in the USA, which is the top 0,3%. Players inside the top 100 in the USA can look for opportunities to become professional players.
How are USATT ratings calculated?
USATT ratings are calculated using a modification of the ELO system.
If you’re a new player and partake in a USATT tournament, the system needs to determine your initial rating.
Your initial rating is derived by taking the average of your best win and your worst loss.
If you played your first tournament and beat a 1000, a 900, and a 700-rated player, then lost against a 1200, an 1100, and a 900-rated player, then your initial rating will be 950.
This is because your best win was against a 1000 player and your worst loss was against a 900 player. The average comes out to 950.
After that, the system will calculate your points won and lost by making use of the rating chart taking into account that your rating is now 950.
If you won or lost all of your matches, then your initial is derived by taking the median implied rating for all of your games. The implied rating is calculated using each of the opponents’ pre-tournament Ratings, and the rating chart.
For players with all losses, the adjusted rating cannot be higher than the player’s worst loss.
When you have a rating and you play a match, this rating chart comes into play.
The USATT system, like the ELO system, is made to reward big wins for the underdogs and to punish unexpected losses for the favorites.
To exemplify how the rating chart works, say you’re 1400 rated and you have to play a match against a 1325 player.
The difference in points between you and the other player is 75, so if you win, you will earn 5 rating points, but if you lose, you will lose 16 rating points.
What is a good USATT Rating?
This is a hard question to answer because having a “good” rating is partly subjective.
We will present you with 2 ways to determine what a good rating could mean to you.
If we think in a merely statistical way, then a “good rating” is anything above the top 50%. At the moment of writing, that number is anything above 1279 rating points.
If you’re rated above 1279, then congrats, you’re statistically above average! If you aren’t, then don’t worry. You can probably still beat 95% or more of the American population which is quite amazing in its own right.
Some people might say that 1279 is not a good rating because intermediate players are between 1400 and 1600 in rating.
1600 would place you in the top 33%, it is a very good rating. If we want to analyze advanced players, then if you’re 2000 rated, you’d sit on the top 12% of the rankings, way above average.
In conclusion, anything above the top 50% is technically a good rating, but if you want to aim for a very good rating, then anything above 1600 is great.
When thinking about what a “good rating” is, you have to take many factors into account.
For example, if you’re 1000 rated, then you might think that your rating is not so good. But if you have been playing for only a year or two, then a 1000 rating is great! It is sure to improve if you keep training.
Also, if you picked up the sport as an adult, then you’re disadvantaged in comparison with those that started out when they were young, so it’d be a bit unfair to compare yourself to them.
The same goes for seniors. A 1000-rated 70-year-old is super impressive. It is all about putting things into perspective.
What is my USATT Rating?
You can check your USATT rating here. Remember, your rating doesn’t define you as a player!
Your enjoyment of the sport shouldn’t be determined by your rating, so your ranking is good as long as you feel happy with it. If you gain rating points, that means you’re a better player than your past self, and that’s really all that matters, improving and having fun.
Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 100 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!