| By Brent Shearer

You've probably heard by now … the news is out. It's all over the city's public courts, from Central Park to Riverside Park, to my home courts in East River Park, or, as we call it, the East Village Country Club. I'm not a 5.0 on the National Tennis Rating Program’s (NTRP) scale anymore. If I ever was.

The NTRP is the U.S. tennis rating system. Beginners are ranked 2.0, and it rises in 0.5 increments to ATP-level professionals who are ranked 7.0.

For years, for decades even, I thought I was a 5.0. I told everybody I was a 5.0. Hadn't I played Division I college tennis even if it was in a previous century? Sure, I'd lost a step or two, maybe I wasn't playing much these days, but I'd assigned myself a 5.0 rating, and I thought that was what I was.

I knew that a lot of players rate themselves more highly than they deserve. I'd joked with my fellow teaching pros about players who called themselves 5.0s and weren't even close. I saw the humor in these men and women who overrated themselves. But me? I had a former Australian Davis Cupper as a coach when I was 12, the same guy Vitas Gerulaitis used when he was coming up. True, I don't play events on the senior circuit, but I am the 2004 Riverside Park 45 and Over Champion. When I got certified for a PTR credential, the coach running the session, herself a former tour player, said I had a beautiful game. The NTRP doesn't give out style points, but how was I not rated a 5.0?

Sure, I shanked most of the overheads in the evaluation, but I pointed with my left hand as I teach my students to do. Really, who practices overheads if you haven't been playing that much. And as for my serve, I had trouble getting the first serve in, but when I missed these slice serves, wasn't I able to put the second serves into play pretty well using my anemic kick serve? That's two different kinds of serves even if neither was very consistent or powerful.

Of course, my first response was to question the competence of my tester, USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Pro Bora Gerceker. What did this guy know anyway to so cavalierly knock me off my comfortable, self-assigned 5.0 perch? Then I read Bora's bio on the NTC site. Of about 15 impressive credentials and achievements, the only one I remember is that he was the Turkish Fed Cup Captain.

When I won the Riverside Park clay event, the quality of the guys I beat was pretty high. In the finals I beat another writer by the odd score of 5-7, 6-0, 6-0. Still, that is hardly Fed Cup level tennis.

I have to admit that Bora knows more about the game than I do.

And I didn't go down just one step to 4.5. If I'd been rated a 4.5 I wouldn't feel nearly as dissed as I do now that I'm a mere 4.0.
Bora seemed like a nice guy. What if my 4.0 is really a “mercy 4.0” like that proofreading class in journalism school where I got the “mercy” D? Maybe I’m really a 3.5?

I’m going to look for the tennis equivalent of those SAT prep courses. Maybe I’ll never be a 5.0 again, but as God and Bora are my witnesses, I’m going to climb back up to 4.5 even if I have to practice overheads.