NEW YORK -- You've had those dreams. You blow a fastball past Albert Pujols. You do a double-pump to leave Kobe Bryant hanging in the air, helpless. You whip a backhand past Roger Federer and are up 3-1 in the second set.
"I was thinking," said Britton, "I'm up a break. This is awesome. Then it only lasted about 30 seconds."
Then Federer won the next six games as the No. 1 player should against an 18-year-old who is ranked No. 1,370 in the world. Federer defeated Britton, 6-1, 6-3, 7-5.
The match was a mismatch. And yet it wasn't.
Britton, 18, won the NCAA singles title last May during the one semester he spent in college, at Mississippi. Invited to the Open as a wild card, he had what could be considered either the good fortune or the misfortune to be put in the draw against Federer, who has won the championship the previous five years.
When told Thursday he had drawn the great Federer, who has a record 15 Grand Slam titles, Britton at first thought it was a joke. Any laughter was muted.
Britton, as all of us, had seen Federer on television. "He looked unbelievable," Britton said of watching from afar.
Then after a pause, the kid added, "But when you play him, he's even more tough."
A day earlier, Britton had practiced with Rafael Nadal, who was ranked No. 1 before being unable to play in June and July because of bad knees. Nothing grandiose bounced around Britton's mind, but after hitting against Nadal, maybe, Britton hoped, he could pull off a shot here or there against Federer.
In a way, he failed. In a way, he succeeded.
"My goal," Britton said candidly, "was not to get crushed."
He didn't. Or did he? Federer won the first set in 18 minutes, which is less time than it takes the 7 train to go from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows back to Manhattan.
"It was hard not to think about who I was playing," Britton conceded. "He plays such a pretty game. It's fun to watch. I didn't start thinking about my own game until late in the second set."
Britton did break Federer once in each of the last two sets, an indication that either Britton has a future or Federer has a heart, not that Roger is going to ease up in his quest for another championship.
"Try to win again," Federer answered when someone asked about his motivation now that he already has been described as the best in history. "I like being the winner of any tournament in the world. That's why, when I enter, I try to win."
If the words sound more than vaguely familiar, echoing those of Tiger Woods, that would be understandable. Federer and Tiger both are served by the same agency, IMG, and both often express admiration for the other.
On this afternoon, any admiration expressed was by Britton, who first signed a professional contract in June at Wimbledon, where he reached the semifinals. Of the junior championships.
|Devin Britton's only goal against Roger Federer? Don't get crushed. (AP)|
"It was pretty scary," said Britton, who at least has a sense of humor -- or of reality. "I was pretty scared."
Fear, excitement, it's a wonder Britton made it through three sets, remarkable he broke Federer in two of the three sets.
"The extended changeovers, I had time to think about it," Britton said of the one-minute breaks. "It was pretty much all I was thinking about. You know, this is pretty cool. I was sitting here on [Arthur] Ashe Court and playing Federer. This is awesome."
Also instructional. Britton said he realized he would need to get stronger, would need to develop a bigger serve, would need to improve his forehand -- although he also knows there is no duplicating the famous Federer forehand.
"I think he serves unbelievably well," Britton said of Federer. "I don't think a lot of people realize how big he serves."
The forehand, the one that is able to place a ball virtually anywhere at any time? Like someone poking his hand into the lion cage at the zoo, Britton masochistically wanted to see how much he could poke around without getting eaten.
"His forehand is just crazy," said Britton, bringing laughter to the media group. "I tried to keep it away, but sometimes I just hit [the ball] there just to see it."
What Federer wants to see is a few more trophies. He finally won the French in June, then took Wimbledon for the sixth time. A sixth consecutive U.S. championship would equal the mark of the late Bill Tilden in 1920-25.
"I've beaten the all-time Grand Slam record," Federer said. "That's not what tennis is all about. I don't think if you ask the other players, their goal is to win 16 Slams now. ... You can have different types of goals. Mine are at a very high level. That's just the difference."
As Devin Britton, his newest victim and latest fan, understands quite well.