Ole Miss freshman wins NCAA Championship

Ole Miss freshman wins NCAA Championship

By Jeff Shepard - bio | email

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Ole Miss freshman Devin Britton became the first player in the history of the men's tennis program to win an NCAA national championship in singles, coming back to beat Ohio State senior Steven Moneke 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 here Monday at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center.

Britton, ranked No. 30 in the nation, becomes the third Rebel to win an NCAA individual title, joining 11-time grand slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi and Ali Hamadeh, who took home the doubles title in 1995.

A native of Jackson, Miss., the 18-year-old Britton becomes the first American-born player to win the NCAA singles title since Alex Kim of Stanford in 2000. He is also the first freshman since 19-year-old Cecil Mamiit of USC (1996) to win the national title and first non-seeded player since Luke Smith of UNLV in 1997. He is the youngest of the three all-time freshmen to win the singles title which includes 19-year-old John McEnroe of Stanford in 1978.  Britton defeated three seeded players en route to his national title run and ended Moneke's 22-match winning streak. Both players respectively were their program's first-ever NCAA singles championship finalists.

"It is a pretty awesome feeling (to win the national championship). It's great for Mississippi tennis. It was just an unbelievable tournament. I couldn't be happier," Britton said."

"He pulled it off," said this year's SEC Coach of the Year, head coach Billy Chadwick. "He's the man. It was a unique run, but the thing is, he's the type of player, when he gets on a roll, he's hard to stop. He had some big serves and applied pressure. We're extremely excited."

For the second time in the individual tournament, Britton had to come from behind to win, just as he did in the quarterfinal round.  Moneke, who is ranked No. 9 in the country and a senior tri-captain for the NCAA runner-up Buckeyes, broke Britton at 4-3 in the first set and then held for 6-3.

In the second set, Britton faced break points at 2-2, but was able to hold and then break Moneke for a 4-2 lead.  Britton broke him again to win 6-2 and send the match on to a third set.

The third set was very similar to the second, in that Britton faced another break point on his serve at 2-2.  Just like the second set, he held and then broke Moneke for a 4-2 lead.  The two then traded service games.  At 5-3, 40-30, Britton missed his first serve, but aced the second one to clinch the title.

"My ground strokes weren't really going anywhere in the first set. I didn't make him play that much," Britton said.  "I served well in the beginning, but towards the last few service games in the set, I started missing a lot of first serves. When I missed the first serve, I knew I was in trouble. He returns very well. I wasn't winning by much when I was hitting second serves. I definitely picked up my serve in the second and third sets and was able to attack his second serve, similar to yesterday. I got a rhythm going on the serve.

"On the ground strokes, I just took a deep breathe after the first set and tried to figure out a way to make him work to hold serve. Eventually, I started to hit some better forehands. I started mixing up the slice a little bit. I just got better and better as the match went on. After I lost the first set, I said to myself, 'keep fighting and hopefully, I can make the match go to a third set.' I learned a lot from that. I definitely surprised myself and didn't see this coming. I just took it one match at a time. I didn't have a lot of mental lapses, and I think that helped out a lot today."

Chadwick said he knew the match would be a tough challenge, playing a seasoned veteran with a lot of experience on the big stage.

"Against (Moneke), Devin knew he had to be ready to go the distance. He had to break him down," Chadwick said. "He knew from the beginning he had a lot of pressure to hold his serve. If you don't (hold serve), you're beat. I really think the match changed when Devin started picking up his return. It put a lot of pressure on (Moneke) and gave Devin the advantage."

Britton defeated Moritz Baumann of Wisconsin in the first round then took out 14th-ranked Dominic Inglot of Virginia in the second round.  In the third round, Britton sent Rice senior Bruno Rosa out of the tournament in straight sets, and then in the quarterfinals he beat Stanford's Clayton, ranked No. 21, in three sets.  On Sunday, he handed the nation's No. 15 ranked player, Arkansas' Blake Strode, a straight set loss to reach the final.

"When you get a national championship, that says it all," Chadwick added. "You took down everyone in Division I tennis. It came down to the last set against a tough opponent. To be a freshman, from Mississippi, who is just now scratching the surface of his potential, is very impressive. It's a great day for Ole Miss and a great day for the state of Mississippi. I think Devin made a smart move coming to college."

Britton, who finished with a 29-9 overall record, made plenty of history in his first season with the Rebels.  In addition to winning the first NCAA singles title for the Rebels, he became the first freshman to earn All-America honors.  He earned All-SEC honors, made the SEC All-Freshman Team and was named the 2009 ITA Southeast Region Rookie of the Year.

The two-time SEC Player of the Week helped lead Ole Miss to the NCAA Elite Eight, the SEC Championship, the SEC Tournament Championship and a final national ranking of No. 4.

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