Former Ole Miss standout faces No. 1 Federer in Grand Slam debut

A tennis wagering site says a victory today by former Ole Miss standout Devin Britton against top-ranked Roger Federer would be “the single greatest upset in tennis history.”
Britton, 18, the reigning NCAA singles champion, tackles Federer – winner of a record 15 Grand Slam titles – in a men’s singles match in the early afternoon on the first day of the U.S. Open in New York.
“Not many people get the opportunity to play Roger on Center Court,” Britton said in a weekend interview with Tennis Week. “I’m really excited.”
The match will be played on sacred ground in the world of American tennis, at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. It will be televised on ESPN2.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Ole Miss coach Billy Chadwick, who will be in the players’ box today for the match. “It’s just one of the once-in-a-lifetime things, to make your debut against the No. 1 player in the world on the biggest stage in the world.”
Federer, who recently turned 28, has reached a record 21 major semifinals, while today marks Britton’s debut in a Grand Slam event. He’s winless in his only ATP-level match, last month in Indianapolis.
“The approach Devin will take, he knows the odds are against him,” Chadwick said Sunday night. “He needs to just really take in the whole situation, enjoy it, fight as hard as he can … and if he does all that, he’ll be a winner.”
Britton, a Brandon native, echoed that notion in his Tennis Week interview.
“It’s definitely not a match I have a lot of expectations in,” he said. “I’ll just play my hardest and hopefully give him some resistance.”
Chadwick says preparing to play the world’s No. 1 player is an “overwhelming” challenge.
“You just have to play your game,” he said. “he has no apparent weaknesses and does everything well … his serve, his returns, his ground strokes.”
If Britton has one thing in his favor, his former coach said it’s mental toughness. “He’s always been at his best when it really counts. He thrives in pressure situations, and that’s what he’ll face today.
“Federer has proven that he doesn’t have letdowns, that he doesn’t take anyone lightly. But there are always circumstances that no one can control.”
By all accounts, Britton has enjoyed the run-up to today’s match. On Kids’ Day at the stadium, he played a doubles match with Anna Ivanovic, the 11th-seeded women’s player, against James Blake and Kim Clijsters. The celebrity chair umpire? Comedian Will Ferrell.
Any chance of getting Ferrell in the chair today?
“That might help,” Chadwick said with a laugh. “But, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”
Sunday night, on his Twitter account, Britton said he was “(a)bout to head to dinner for some pasta action. … Good day at the BIlly Jean King tennis center.”
As a player appearing in Arthur Ashe Stadium, he gets 15 box seat tickets. His cheering section will include his parents and at least one of his siblings.
Last year, at the Junior U.S. Open, Britton reached the finals. Since then, he became the youngest winner (18) of the NCAA singles title, then decided to turn pro.
“After winning the NCAA I felt like there was not much more I could accomplish,” he said.
But his affiliation with Ole Miss will continue to pay dividends for the Rebels’ program, Chadwick said.
“The Ole Miss name will come up all through the match, no question, as will the fact he was the youngest NCAA champion ever” Chadwick said. “It’s a big, big plus for the university, for all of Mississippi tennis and for U.S. tennis as well.”
A first-round victory today, as improbable has it might be, would be worth $31,000 to Britton.
The larger dividend? Priceless.

John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio