The Bigger Picture

Will Ole Miss NCAA Champion Devin Britton, who announced his decision to turn pro Wednesday, become the next great American tennis player? A nation can only hope. Read about it inside.

Though the timing was rather anticlimactic, the decision by Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton to begin his professional career should come as no surprise.

Britton's only year in Oxford was something for the ages. He arrived on campus at the youthful age of 17, was immediately cast as the team's No. 1 singles player, before experiencing some growing pains against the nation's top competition.

But like all the greats, the Mississippi native rebounded with a vengeance. While the Rebels were eliminated in the Elite Eight, Britton rode his newfound wave of confidence and dominance all the way to a national championship.

In fact, with his three-set victory over Ohio State's Steven Moneke in May, Britton became the first freshman to win a championship in NCAA Individuals since 1996.

"The thing Devin improved on the most is his mental approach of the game," Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said. "He learned to fight for every point. A person can play a lifetime and can't get that Pete Rose, Jimmy Connors will to fight. You saw that in the close matches of the NCAA's – to take a deep breath, pull the trigger and go for it.

"There were many times his back was against the wall, but found a way to win. Prior to his coming to Ole Miss, he wouldn't have been able to do that. He's the next American hopeful."

And therein lays the reasoning behind Britton's choice to move on Wednesday.

Not since the retirement of all-time tennis greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi has the U.S. seen one of its countrymen rise to the top of the world heap in men's tennis.

Sampras, arguably the greatest male tennis player in history, won a record 14 Grand Slam men's singles titles over his career, and finished the year ranked No. 1 for a record six consecutive years. Agassi, who ended his 21-year career after the 2006 U.S. Open, is one of just five men to win all four Grand Slam titles in the Open era.

Andy Roddick was supposed to be the next in line to become the face of American men's tennis, but hasn't played to the level of his mass potential.

However, Roddick is doing his best to revive interest in the game our country once adored, advancing to the semifinals in Wimbledon the same day of Britton's announcement. It's the farthest Roddick has advanced since being eliminated in three sets in the 2005 finals by Roger Federer.

"Of course we wanted him to stay, but this is a great move for Devin and we have been expecting it since he won the NCAAs," said Chadwick of Britton's decision. "He's ready to make the move and got a great package to sign. I could not be happier for him.

"The USTA was hungry for Devin to turn pro and there is nothing negative about it, even on our end."

Earlier today, Britton advanced to the semifinals at Wimbledon Juniors, and will be trying for his second junior grand slam final since the U.S. Open Junior Final in 2008.

His career success could do wonders, not only for Ole Miss, but for the state as well. Tennis stars throughout Mississippi have been few and far between over the years, with Britton far-and-away the best to come through in quite some time.

"Being from Mississippi, it helps expand our base," said Chadwick of Britton. "As for Ole Miss, it's a great thing. His success will have a trickle down affect for tennis in our state. Young kids look at a kid from Brandon (Miss.) who won a championship in his freshman season.

"He'll continue to inspire and be a great ambassador."

With a country and state hungry for just that, we can only hope.

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