It was a wild weekend for the 18-year-old wild card Devin Britton, who learned shortly after noon Thursday that he would face Roger Federer, who is seeking his sixth consecutive United States Open title, in the first round Monday afternoon.
Britton, who received a wild card from the U.S.T.A. for winning the N.C.A.A. men’s title in May, has spent the past few days doing interviews with ESPN and the Tennis Channel, high-fiving Ana Ivanovic in an Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day mixed doubles match, trading jokes with the comedian Will Ferrell and practicing with Rafael Nadal.
A narrow ray of the tennis spotlight fell on Britton, a 6-foot-4 native of Jackson, Miss., when as an unseeded freshman at Mississippi, he became the youngest man to win the collegiate title. But the attention he has received in the past few days has him blinking with disbelief.
“It’s been crazy, I’ve never done this many interviews in my entire life,” said Britton, who as an unseeded qualifier reached the final of last year’s United States Open junior championships. “I’m definitely not used to it and I’m trying to adapt. But it’s really fun and I’m enjoying the attention.”
Britton signed a professional contract this summer at Wimbledon, where he reached the semifinals of the junior championships in singles and the quarterfinals in doubles. He has played only one main-draw ATP Tour match, last month in Indianapolis, losing in the first round to another American, Rajeev Ram. His four ATP points are dwarfed by Federer’s 12,040, and even his new management team at Octagon is just hoping for a good showing Monday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Hopefully it won’t happen too fast and he can engage and be competitive, enjoy the showcase, and then get ready for Round 2,” deadpanned Tom Ross, a senior vice president at Octagon. He quickly added: “Just kidding, a little joke. I wouldn’t want to offend the big guy.”
Britton may have one secret weapon: he serves and volleys, a style Federer and the other top players rarely encounter.
“Plan A is to serve and volley, maybe not on second serves, but on first serves,” said Britton, who added that he had received a lot of what he called “sarcastic” tactical advice.
“I’m going to need to serve really well, obviously. I’ll serve and volley to the backhand, but if I go
down quick I may change it up a little bit, try to mix it up, staying back and coming in.
“I’ve been asking guys for tactics, but nobody can come up with much except, ‘Hit it high and heavy to his backhand and hit a lot of winners.’ The coaches I’ve been working with at the U.S.T.A. have been telling me to play my game and go for my shots.”
There was not much strategic advice Nadal could offer Britton during their 90-minute practice session Saturday. Nadal has a 13-7 record against Federer while playing a style drastically different from Britton’s.
“He didn’t give me any pointers,” Britton said of their conversation. He then indulged in a little sarcasm of his own, adding, “I’ll just play like Nadal and hopefully, it’ll work out.”