NTRP 3.5 singles tournament report (long)

I enjoy reading tournament reports, and find there aren’t enough on this forum. So here’s my contribution re: a 3.5 singles tournament that I recently won.


First, because I don’t want this to be a total brag post, I’ll include a trip report of the last time I played a tournament at this location, when I was a 4.0. Trip reports tend to be quite concise when one loses in the first round, but I had the privilege of losing THREE times in this tournament, which must be a record, since this tournament restricts players from entering more than two events.

I saw that my first round opponent in the 4.0 singles draw was a neighbor who lived two doors down from me…we could have saved ourselves the trouble and played in our neighborhood court! While I knew his son played club tennis in college and was actually an instructor at the host club, I had never run into my opponent in USTA leagues. He was probably five years older than me, and even though I was a low-end 4.0 player, I felt that I could frustrate him with my unconventional game. Nope, he crushed me 2 & 1. He had too much power for me to handle, and was accurate with his passing shots.

Unfazed, I teamed up with another neighbor in the 8.0 MXD event and sought redemption. We faced a pair that had come from out of state, so that should have clued me in that we were not going to have an easy match. I was momentarily put at ease when we jumped out to a 3-1 lead, somehow getting the 6’5 guy to keep overhitting. But then he found his groove, serving and hitting me off the court. Hard for me to counterpunch if I can't catch up to the ball. We lost 11 of the final 12 games….This pair ended up making the finals, losing in TB to a pair that is now rated 9.0.

So I was content to watch the rest of the tournament as a spectator, but one of my buddies had his partner bail on him for the 4.0 doubles event. The tournament director approved me subbing in, as I had already busted out of my two registered events. I hadn’t played before with my buddy (who is a slightly better than average 4.0, but better in singles, IMO), but we had nothing to lose. Well, maybe our pride….we got bageled our first set! This father/son team overpowered us, and any shot that got within reach of the net person got put away. Not sure if our opponents were taking it easy on us the second set, but we got more balls in play and somehow found ourselves up a break at 5-4 with an opportunity to force a match tiebreak. We lost 6-0, 7-5. At least our opponents ended up winning this event, so in theory we could have been the second best pair!

In unrelated news, I got dropped down to 3.5 the following season.

The Main Event

Fast forward 2.5 years, and now I’m kicking butt at 3.5 but playing mostly doubles. Partly because of my declining fitness level, partly because of injuries (back problems), and partly because my teams have had better singles options, I played less and less singles. But since I may be needed to play singles in postseason this year (on days where we have back-to-back matches), I wanted to see if I still had it to compete with some top 3.5 singles players. So on the last day of registration, I submitted my entry.

I saw there were 14 entrants in the 3.5 men’s singles draw. I found estimated ratings on TR for all but three of these players. Here was the distribution:


(As luck would have it, I would face the two highest rated players.)

First Round

My first opponent had an estimated rating of 3.19. I had played him a couple of years ago in a 7.5 combo league. From what I recall, he was consistent, hit with plenty of topspin, and was crafty at net. But didn’t have the power to put me on the defensive.

I won the toss and elected to serve first. The match was at 11am, and the sun was out in full force, but luckily for me, I don’t have a good serve to begin with, so the sun doesn’t affect my serve much (I barely toss the ball above my head). My plan was to serve to my opponent’s backhand unless he repositioned himself to dare me to serve to his forehand. I was pleased with my serving…I didn’t miss a single first serve the entire first set (and only thrice the second set)! I held easily at love.

My opponent had some nice serves as well, but I never felt like he was going to ace me. My plan was to block the ball back and start the point. I made a couple of errors the first return game, which I lost, but then got locked in. My simple strategy was to chip to his backhand and then move in. Once at the net, I was able to control the point, mostly by angling shots away from him or hitting drop volleys to force him up and then hit lobs over him. He ran down a few balls initially, but the 96 degree weather was wearing on him, and he was visibly defeated once I broke him to start the second set. 6-1, 6-0 win for me, which I appreciated because I knew I was going to face a much tougher opponent a couple hours later.


Lots of things broke my way…I had a relatively easy first opponent. My 2nd-round opponent (3.52) had to face a 3.48 opponent who battled him for 2.5 hours (my match was under an hour). Then my 2nd-round opponent had to play a doubles match in between, so I had a huge advantage in being able to rest for about 4 hours while my opponent had to play continuously. He was in good physical shape, though, and probably 20 years my junior.

After a 45-minute rest period, my 2nd round opponent took the court. I was concerned about his line calls, as I saw he had heated disputes with his morning singles opponent and in his doubles match (where an official had to station herself at the net post for the duration of the match to prevent further disputes). But…I don’t hit hard enough serves/shots for there to be much opportunity to unintentionally hook me. And after a few games, it became evident that my opponent didn’t want to be out in the heat any longer. He had a huge lefty serve, but (1) didn’t have any spin that usually gives me problems with lefty servers, and (2) didn’t get enough of his first serves in and had a rinky-dink second serve. I jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and felt like my opponent was just going through the motions. Perhaps he felt like he would prefer to focus on his doubles event (which he ended up winning), but he didn’t seem all that invested in winning this singles match vs. me. 6-1, 6-1 win for me (although it was recorded as 6-3, 6-1). On to the semifinals!

I hadn’t played two singles matches in one day since 2016 (and that didn’t go well for me), and I understood why…I was barely able to limp to my car. My calf and achilles felt like they were crying uncle. I made sure to keep hydrated and ingested a liter of Pedialyte, but still felt like I was in danger of cramping up. I took an Epsom salt bath when I got home, and went to bed early.


At 9:30am the next morning, I faced the highest rated player in the field, Mr. 3.53. He appeared to have had an easy time in his first match (I think he had a bye so played just one match the first day), but I did see one result in his history that gave me the utmost confidence. He had played in a 50+ singles tournament and lost to a player that I know, and figured I have a similar (but better) style of play as that common opponent. Sure enough, I was able to frustrate my opponent, who constantly unleashed a flurry of colorful words as he cursed himself. He definitely had better stroke mechanics and a stronger serve, but I stuck to my plan to chip and charge. I also ran down some balls and won some key points that seemed to deflate him. During what seemed like a ten-minute service game of his in which I saved a game point on a lucky net cord winner, my opponent simply said “I’m done” and shook my hand (mind you, it was still at deuce in his service game after that lucky shot). 6-2, 4-2 (retired) win in what I’ve termed my “No Mas” game. It must have been a combination of the heat/humidity plus the fact that I was playing great defense. I’ll take it, as it gave me additional time to rest up for the 1pm Finals.


Luck continued to be on my side, as my Finals opponent (3.32, but had an impressive league record and tourney results) had to play the doubles Finals before he played me. We ended up not playing until about 2:30pm, and I’m sure he was dead tired after playing three matches (including two singles matches) the day before and then two more matches (including a singles match) earlier in the day before our Finals match.

I saw him play doubles and didn’t think he’d be difficult to play (I felt his partner – my 2nd-round opponent – was stronger). But I was wrong. He had a much stronger serve than I gave him credit for (both placement and pace), and he had enough energy left to scrap hard for points. I had a friend tip me off that he preferred his backhand, so I served primarily to his forehand, which was working for me…until he adjusted. We had some great rallies. He forced me into way more errors than I was comfortable with, and made me take some chances at net (which worked out well). I got up an early break and got through the first set 6-3. But the second set was a real battle, with us on serve the entire way until 4-4 when I finally broke him. Then I was up 40-0 (triple match point), only to give away a point by double-faulting (my first of the tournament) and then having him blast a winner on the next service return. But I closed it out for a 6-3, 6-4 win!

Definitely was aided by playing opponents who were exhausted in two of my four matches -- and in my other two matches, my opponents seemed more bothered by the heat/humidity than I was. But I’ll take it; I needed this confidence boost as I head into 3.5 playoffs in the coming weeks.
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Well done.
Even if it’s 3.5 it does take some resolve to win under match conditions. Sounds like your semi final opponent did not have that mental toughness.


Bionic Poster
What it shows is that tennis is difficult, whether it is 3.5 or Wimbledon. That is why the only real rating is the rating that comes from matches, not from observations about stylish strokes and elegance.


Hall of Fame
Curious how a 6-1,6-1 win was recorded 6-3,6-1? Opponent thought they'd won 3x as many games and you just said who cares and didn't argue?
Curious how a 6-1,6-1 win was recorded 6-3,6-1? Opponent thought they'd won 3x as many games and you just said who cares and didn't argue?
I reported the score and left. I noticed the 6-3, 6-1 score when I looked at the results today. I could be misremembering the score, but I doubt it.
Great win! Bring it on to postseason, I wish I was playing singles against you, one of the toughest players in 3.5 IMHO. Stars just just not aligning this year.
appreciate the post. inspiring to this fellow 3.5 player who's only played in a handful of tourneys over 10 years of playing, and never made it further than semis.
Way to go! About to play my first tourney ever starting tomorrow, this fired me up.
Was gonna wish you good luck, but see that the tournament has passed...and that you did pretty well! I'm about the same age as you, and know that competing against players in their athletic prime is a challenge. Looks like your particular opponent had the mental wherewithal to adjust after a rough start. In a couple of more years, we can play the 50+ NTRP tourneys and be the new kids on the block, ha!