In a matchup of SEC foes, Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton downed Arkansas' Blake Strode in straight sets Sunday, for a berth in the NCAA Singles Finals.
After becoming only the fifth Rebel to reach the Final Four in school history, Britton again made history by becoming the first player to ever reach the championship game of individual play.
"I definitely served very well today. (Blake Strode) was actually serving pretty well also. He played a bunch of good games, but he missed a couple of serves," Britton said. "I was lucky to get out of the first set. He was serving 5-3 and I cracked a couple of second serves. He wanted to kind of work the point and work the forehand and I tried to take that away from him as much as possible and I was pretty successful."
With the win, Britton notched his 13th-consecutve victory and will meet Ohio State's Steven Moneke Monday at 11 a.m.
"Today was a great matchup," said Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick. "Devin wanted to set the tone of the match by letting (Blake Strode) know he was going after his backhand. He went to the forehand and kept him off-balance. He was in trouble in the first set, but hit five first serves to close it out. That, to me, was the point he won the match."
Ranked No. 30 in the country, Britton's road to the championship game has been quite impressive.
He entered the Final Four as one of only two underclassmen remaining, before topping Stanford's Alex Clayton in three sets. Britton had to battle back against the Cardinal sophomore, but was able to claim victory after rallying from a set down in the third.
The Mississippi native was faced with another sizeable challenge today, this time against a three-time All-SEC honoree, but was able to set the tone early and enforce his will for the win.
"Devin did a great job of competing on every point and using his guns," Chadwick said of Sunday's victory. "He was able to use his great serve to his advantage. That was the difference. Now he's going into the finals with the attitude to win it. He played an excellent match today."
Chadwick said Britton's run toward a championship has been a thrilling one, to say the least.
"It's very exciting to see," said Chadwick. "He's developing by leaps-and-bounds every time he walks out on the court. Devin plays a game where he has to execute. That puts a lot of pressure on yourself. It's like a pitcher in baseball. You're the one throwing the ball out there. Every time he's playing the point, he's controlling the match."
Throughout the tournament, Britton has been met with some of the best talent the nation has to offer, but with each match ending in similar fashion.
Britton topped Rice's Bruno Rosa (ranked 300th in the ATP) in straight sets Friday, which followed a win over Virginia's Dominic Inglot – ranked No. 14 nationally – a day earlier. He also made quick work of Wisconsin's Mortiz Baumann in the first round, and now sits with 28 wins on the year.
"Well, you have to have a lot of confidence," Chadwick said of competing against such difficult competition in each match. "But what has given Devin a lot of confidence (in the postseason) was coming into the SEC, playing at a high level and having success. All spring long, he played against the best competition in the country. He had won eight matches in a row before he got here, so he was already on a roll."
Chadwick said Britton has made significant improvement mentally, which has allowed him to stick to his gameplan in matches and not allow the opposition to dictate play.
"At the top, he's really made great improvement in the mental part of the game," Chadwick said. "Earlier in the season, Devin would have a tendency to drift off and get down on himself. But he really made the effort and now you can see it. Mentally, he's competing in every point. That's big."
With Moneke up next, Britton will again need his best.
A member of the national runners-up and a senior tri-captain for Ohio State, Moneke became just the second Buckeye in program history to advance to the semifinals of the singles championship.
He downed Virginia's Sanam Singh 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 Sunday, after Singh had beaten the nation's No. 1 player in Arnau Brugues of Tulsa in straight sets in the Final Four.
But with his fearless run so far, Chadwick said Britton has inserted his name amongst the top players in the country.
"What it means is you are really putting yourself in a category of being one of the top players, not only in the country, but on the world tour," said Chadwick. "He's on the fast track. He's really showing that, not only can play with the top players in the country, but beat these guys.
"The person he beat in the second round, Rosa, was 300th in the world. He's really made the transition of playing in his own age group of 18-20 year olds, to playing players who, across the board, would be successful if they were in the futures tour today."
While many are pondering the fact that Britton could very well turn pro after his season comes to an end, Chadwick said the Freshman All-American could use another year to hone his craft.
"That always goes with the territory," said Chadwick of the prospect of Britton possibly trying the professional ranks. "It does give a person many more options. I think Devin would be the first to tell you that he has some development to do. The question he has to ask is 'do I want to do the developing on the futures week-to-week, or in a controlled environment?' Here, he can have the structure."
The future will have to wait, however, as Britton is on the verge of an individual championship and a place in Ole Miss lore.
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