Arkansas native volleys into final

Arkansas native Chris Wettengel advanced to the singles championship match of the Pine Bluff Country Club Tennis Patrons Community Tennis Classic with an upset three-set win over Great Britain’s Sean Thornley Saturday morning.

Wettengel entered the event ranked No. 712 in the Association of Tennis Professionals world rankings and drew a No. 3 seed at PBCC. Thornley is ranked at 602 and was a No. 2 seed.

Wettengel opened with a 6-3 win in the first set and closed out the match with a 6-3 third after Thornley evened the match with a 6-4 second.

“That was my first match back on the hardcourt,” Wettengel said. “Last week I played at the ATP Tour event in Houston and that was on red clay. In the first set my feet were a little off and it was windy and the humidity was tricky. It took a whole set to get familiar with the ball.”

Wettengel will face New Zealand’s Artem Sitak, the tournament’s top seed with an ATP ranking of 423. Sitak ousted No. 4 seed Australian Nima Roshan (ATP 783) 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Wettengel, who grew up in Bentonville, currently resides in Las Vegas where he teaches young tennis players while still chasing his own aspirations of becoming one of the world’s elite.

Wettengel helped Bentonville win a state championship as a freshman, when he claimed an individual state title. He attempted to play on the professional tour after high school but found the financial demands too much to maintain. He started teaching kids as a way to stay around the game while saving funds to continue his pro career.

Wettengel recently advanced to the finals in Oklahoma and quickly jumped in the rankings from lower than 1,000th to around 700th after a first-round exit in Houston (a loss to former No. 2 Tommy Haas) to land at his current status. He will play in a Futures event in Little Rock next week and with a good showing could continue to rise.

“The goal is to get in the 350 range to get into the qualifying for the Grand Slams,” Wettengel said. “You can move up quickly from there because of the main draws in bigger events and you don’t have to qualify all the time.”

Wettengel said his goal was to make the U.S. Open by August.

“It’s not out of reach,” he said. “It would just take a couple of good weeks. Like, if I win in Little Rock next week my ranking would go up into the 500’s. Eventually, I get two good weeks and there you are.”

Following today’s 11 a.m. singles championship, Wettengel and Sitak will team up in doubles to face Roshan and Thornley, who dismissed California’s Timothy Tan and Darius Mohale 6-4, 6-2 in Saturday’s semis.

Wettengel expects today’s competition to be intense against Sitak and in the doubles match. Thornley is primarily a doubles player.

Thornley and his tour playing partner, David Rice (ATP 430 singles) made the Wimbledon draw last year and is expected to make their second appearance at this year’s event at The All England Lawn Tennis Club.