Jeff Landau, Tennis Coach for the British School in Jakarta, shares how he uses UTR
to promote level based play in Indonesia and get his kids ready for collegiate competition in the US. Jeff is a former American ATP player and played Division 1 tennis for four years at Wake Forest University. Level based tennis is more than just about the game for Jeff, it’s also about honoring a close friend. Here’s Jeff’s story:
Level based tennis competition is nothing new to Jakarta schools tennis. It has been going on since 2009, thanks to two American Tennis Pros transplanted to Jakarta, Matt Wheeler, the former Athletic Director of the Anglo Chinese School Jakarta and Jeff Landau, Tennis Coach from the British School Jakarta. In 2009, Wheeler, a former Peter Burwash International regional director, and Landau, a former ATP ranked player whose work experience includes a stint with the USTA New England section, began to team together holding match play events between their two programs.
“All we knew was that most of our school level players were scared to compete and if they had a bad experience we usually couldn’t convince them to come back. We wanted everyone to get a close match and not get crushed.” says Landau.
“Matt and I never used the term 'level based' because it didn’t really exist at the time,” says Landau. “All we knew was that most of our school level players were scared to compete and if they had a bad experience we usually couldn’t convince them to come back. We wanted everyone to get a close match and not get crushed.”
With the absence of ratings such as UTR to guide them, Wheeler and Landau communicated using code words to assess players abilities, using words such as “North” and “South” to describe player level.
For years, Wheeler and Landau would hold regular match play events and arrange matches based on player’s levels, regardless of gender or age. After a few years, they got so good at matching players that it seemed every match would go 7-5 or 7-6, which was exactly their goal.
Tragically in 2014, Matt Wheeler passed away in a car accident in Jakarta. At that time all the momentum the two coaches had created was suddenly on hold. “Matt and I worked so naturally together and shared the same philosophy of level based play and creating good experiences for the players. For a long time I was honestly a bit lost without him," remembers Landau.
But in 2015, Landau happened to discover UTR and realized it brought the same level based philosophy that they had used for their school matches. He decided to bring it to Indonesia and is responsible for its spread to Bangkok and Singapore schools as well. Because very few Indonesian players were rated, he began having match play events on Sundays, matching up players based on their level and getting people rated. Fast forward two years and the concept has morphed into a unique knockout event involving hundreds of players of literally all ages and levels.
Stage 1 participants rated between 1.00 and 2.49 UTR.
The BSJ OPEN takes place the last weekend of each month and uses a progressive draw where players start at different stages in the event based on their UTR rating, regardless of age or gender. All players play at least two matches. It has one of the largest ranges of the ability of any tournament in the world and routinely draws well over 100 players. The minimum standard to compete is to be able to serve from the baseline. At the other extreme, there are current and former ATP and WTA ranked players that compete in the very same draw and event as those beginners.
Stage 1 takes place on Saturday mornings with players UTR rated between 1.00 and 2.49 competing. Players play one set matches over 4 hours and the top 4 players move on to Stage 2, Saturday afternoon.
Stage 2 has players rated between 2.50 and 4.49. Just like the first stage, they compete over 4 hours with the final 4 players progressing to Sunday morning and Stage 3.
Stage 3 has players rated UTR 4.50-8.49. Due to the wide rating spread in this Stage, Landau devised a system where he puts the lowest rated players in round-robin pool play with only the top players advancing to the knockout stage. The highest rated players in the stage start at the knockout. Once again the top 4 players earn spots in Stage 4, which is Sunday afternoon.
Landau (center) with BSJ OPEN April Winner Wisnu Adi Nugroho (UTR 13.01) and finalist Sunu Wahyu Trijati (UTR 13.07)
Stage 4 has players rated 8.50 and up, and again a similar pool/knockout system is used to keep players competing against similar levels. Stage 4 is mostly comprised of ITF players, as well as current and former professional players. These players compete in one set matches for the equivalent of US$1,000 in Prize Money. There is also a cash prize for the top female finisher in the event. In a salute to his former colleague, the winner of the BSJ OPEN gets his or her name engraved on the Matt Wheeler Cup and can take it home until the next event. In this way, Landau recognizes the contributions his friend made years before.
The BSJ OPEN has averaged well over 100 players in the 3 events so far with players ranging in age from 6 to 60, proving that level based play works. The ratings range of participants run from 1.00 all the way up to 13.10. The British School Jakarta tennis program itself now has 81 players with a UTR rating. Its school teams are selected solely using UTR ratings. Many Indonesian players were not previously rated because there are few ITF events in the country and players often lack the funding to travel overseas. The BSJ OPEN is giving local players a chance to get rated which will help them later if they want to play college tennis in the US.
Landau admits that at the beginning not everyone gets it. “Some men’s players look at their opponent and say wait, I’m playing this small girl?” he says. “But once they play the match and have a great experience and competitive match they realize that tennis is just about playing whoever is on the other side of the net.” After that he finds players embrace the concept and enjoy playing players of different styles. That is what UTR level based events are all about.