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Brandon native Britton puts self on fast track

Ten years ago, a 17-year-old kid reached the finals of the U.S. Open Junior Tennis Championships. He lost in straight sets.

His name was Roger Federer, and many now consider him the greatest player in the history of his sport. He won the U.S. Open Monday for his 13th Grand Slam title.

On Sunday, the day before Federer won his fifth U.S. Open title, another 17-year-old kid reached the finals of the U.S. Open Junior Tennis Championships. He lost in straight sets, too.

His name is Devin Britton, and he grew up right here in Brandon, learning to play on Jackson tennis courts as a youngster at Colonial, River Hills and Parham Bridges.

This is not to say that Devin Britton is the next Roger Federer - or even the next Boris Becker (1984 U.S. Open junior runner-up). It is to say the possibility certainly exists. Devin Reade Britton is one of those - a prodigy, an extraordinary talent, already the most accomplished junior tennis player in the history of his home state.

Young Britton stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall - Becker's size - and is still growing. He plays a powerful serve and volley game, more like Becker than Federer. He's still learning - about his game, about himself.

He learned so much at the U.S. Open, where he was an unseeded player who had to win two matches just to qualify for the main draw.

"He found himself," says his mother, Cindy Britton. "I was completely blown away. It was as if Devin suddenly realized what he has. He was just glowing out there."

"It was like something clicked," young Britton said Tuesday. "I beat the number two seed (Bernard Tomic of Australia) in my first match, and it all sort of came together. I was serving well, volleying well. I just became a lot more confident."

You should know that the U.S. Open juniors championship has been a springboard for several of the sport's most successful players. Eight years ago, Andy Roddick won it. Four years ago, Andy Murray, runner-up to Federer Monday, won the junior championship. There are more, but you get the idea.

Game blossoms in Florida

Britton was speaking Tuesday from Bradenton, Fla., at the elite Nick Bollettieri IMG Tennis Academy, where he has trained and been schooled since age 14.

Bollettieri, one of the world's premier teachers, first saw Britton play as a 14-year-old and offered him a full scholarship at his exclusive academy.

You might think that a home-schooled 14-year-old leaving home to go to school and play tennis would be a difficult decision for the youngster.

In Britton's case, you would think wrong.

"I always wanted to come here," Britton said. "When I got the chance, I jumped at it. It was probably harder on my mom than on me. This was a dream. Plus I could talk to my mom and dad on the phone anytime I wanted."

In the three-plus years since, Britton's game has steadily progressed. In June, he won the International Grass Courts junior championship at Philadelphia. He qualified for but lost his first-round match at the Wimbledon Junior Championships. Still, he was ranked No. 120 in the world, so there was little to predict what occurred over the last few days at Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Closer match against tough foe

Britton defeated players from Australia, Germany and Serbia, as well as two fellow Americans, in order to reach the finals. There, he ran into Bulgarian sensation Grigor Dimitrov, who had won the Wimbledon junior championship in June. The two had played only once before when Demitrov made short work of Britton 6-1, 6-2.

This time, Britton played Dimitrov much tougher but lost 6-4, 6-3. The match was competitive: Dimitrov won 67 points, Britton 52.

"This time, I gave him a match," Britton said. "Grigor played great, but I had my chances. I can see myself beating him in the future, but it will be tough and I'll have to improve."

After the victory, Dimitrov announced he is turning pro. Britton, at least for now, has different plans. He plans to graduate high school early and enroll at Ole Miss in January. He wants to play the spring semester for the Rebels and then see what happens.

"Now, I'm going to have other opportunities, but I think I would be best-served to play at least a year of college tennis," Britton said.

Don't think for a second he doesn't have future plans to make his mark in professional tennis.

Said Britton, "That's been my goal as long as I can remember."

It looks a lot more reachable today than it did a couple weeks ago.

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