Vocal Wettengel lets his game do the talking, too

Chris Wettengel won 12 straight sets en route to a Big Ten singles championship.

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota men’s tennis senior Chris Wettengel was cast into a hostile environment when he rolled through the first five rounds of the Big Ten Singles Tournament in November.

And the hometown fans at Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., took pleasure in heckling Wettengel as he took on Michigan’s Michael Rubin in the final.

But had someone offered a compliment in his direction that day, it would have been met with a simple “thank you.”

Despite Wettengel’s straight-sets victory over Rubin for the championship, he still might be best known for his vocal conduct on the court. He talks to fans, congratulates his opponents and cheers for himself and his team during matches.

And he has his reasons.

“The first time (they see him), the guys think he might be insincere and yelling and screaming to distract them and get some advantage,” Gophers coach David Geatz said. “But he’s firing himself up.”

Wettengel said he plays that way to keep things entertaining and positive. He maintains it is all confidence, even if he’s a little cocky at times.

Geatz said he used to think Wettengel’s talking was a distraction. But he said it doesn’t faze him anymore and he can’t help but be happy with the results.

Wettengel’s latest accomplishment was entering the conference singles tournament seeded seventh and sailing through six matches without losing a set.

Wettengel thrived in the final match with an extra-large crowd to play to with his yelling, cheering and applauding.

“It kept them entertained,” he said. “It kept everybody on me the whole match. I keep myself entertained. I’m just trying to have a good time out there.”

Wettengel said, like anything else, playing tennis every day can get boring. But besides wanting to keep things interesting, there’s a mental aspect to why he defies tennis tradition by not keeping quiet.

Geatz can’t remember the last time Wettengel yelled something negative during a match, and that’s because he only says positive things.

He’ll hear “Go Wett” and repeat the phrase. He’ll hear encouragement and say thank you. When he falls victim to a nice shot or serve from across the net, he’ll praise his foe.

“Every opponent I’ve played starts to get into my rhythm, my emotions,” Wettengel said. “They try to do that back. But I’ve been doing it so long I don’t lose focus.

“They’re too focused on what I’m doing, and they lose focus on what they’re doing.”

He said nobody else plays like he does, and that’s his advantage.

He even goes so far as to say his style makes him the most hated player to play against in college tennis.

Geatz said other coaches tell him about how they hated Wettengel the first time they saw him. Now, they talk about how they wish they had a Wettengel of their own.

“Chris is a really good shot-maker, so he has flashes of brilliance,” junior teammate Avery Ticer said. “But now he’s playing great for longer periods of time – at a higher level more consistently.”

Geatz said consistency is something Wettengel has struggled with in previous years. He said he couldn’t trust Wettengel to beat inferior opponents every time out.

But his play so far this year – he is a team-best 15-3 with a No. 59 nationwide ranking – has shown progress in that area. He has lost just once since October.

Pound for pound, Geatz calls Wettengel the best athlete in the Big Ten. He said he’s someone who could really make some noise as an unseeded entry into the NCAA singles tournament or even win it. Geatz said he has the potential to play professional tennis, which Wettengel intends to pursue.

Regardless, opponents aren’t the only ones who would rather not player Wettengel.

“If I had to play myself, I would definitely struggle,” he said. “That would be one challenge I wouldn’t want to face.”