Robbie Weiss has what Mazen Osama wants.
Almost 32 years ago, Weiss was in the midst of a historic run. After a disappointing, injury-shortened junior season, the Pepperdine University senior was tearing through his competition en route to winning the 1988 NCAA men’s tennis No. 1 singles championship. During his run to the title, Weiss compiled a 55-2 record.
Now, Weiss is in his third season as an assistant coach at Alabama, and Osama is the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 player. Unlike Weiss, Osama had a satisfying junior campaign in which he made an unexpected run to the quarterfinals of the singles championship. Like Weiss, Osama has his sights set on claiming a national title as a senior this season.
“I truly believe that he does have the ability to win a national championship in singles,” Weiss said. “He’s got to believe it deep down that he can do it.”
Weiss was aware of Osama’s potential before he even started coaching the Crimson Tide. In the year prior to joining head coach George Husack’s staff, Weiss watched several Alabama matches and immediately recognized him as an “upper echelon” college player.
Although Osama was a well-polished player when Weiss began coaching him, there was still one major area for improvement — his consistency. It was something Osama struggled with before he came to Alabama, when the Cairo, Egypt, native was ranked in the top 500 professionally.
“(Robbie) told me that I needed to be more focused in practice because whatever I do in practice will impact how I do in matches,” Osama said. “He helped me a lot with that. I’m way more consistent than I was before.”
Building consistency started in practice for Osama, but it didn’t end there. Anytime he needed extra reps to further hone his skills, Weiss was there to feed him balls, regardless of the time.
“He’s one of the most hardworking people that I’ve seen in my life,” Osama said. “He’s always out here at the courts. Whenever any of the guys need help, he’s always doing extra stuff.”
Weiss’ dedication to his players’ success and development was one of the main reasons that he was awarded the ITA Southern Assistant Coach of the Year last season.
As Weiss helped Osama improve his consistency, he also began working with Osama on the way he approached the game mentally. After winning the championship in 1988, Weiss went on to have a successful pro career. Along with ascending to the No. 85 ranking in the world, he claimed four victories over No. 1 ranked players, including Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. Weiss established a reputation as a mentally resilient player. Now he’s passing that mentality on the Osama.
“When he was a player, he used to be really mentally tough,” Osama said. “It was beyond great. It’s always great to learn from him how he approached stuff when he was challenged on the court.”
The mental side of the game is paramount to any tennis player’s success. It’s even more important for Osama, who has held down the No. 1 spot in Alabama’s lineup since coming to Tuscaloosa. While his teammates may have easier matches against lower ranked teams, Osama is almost always guaranteed a challenging match.
“This is my fourth year, and every year I feel like I have more experience dealing with it,” Osama said. “I don’t think about it all the time. I just try to think about it match by match. If I do what I’m supposed to do at every match, I’m not going to have trouble. I think about what I’ve got to do and just stick to my game plan. If things go well, great. If not, I try to figure out how to adjust and change it.”
Osama has become proficient at not letting a couple of close losses snowball into something worse, Weiss said.
“Even when things aren’t going great or he loses a couple matches, it doesn’t rattle him,” he said. “He doesn’t go into a spiral down and lose confidence. He can play a bad match or have a tough stretch and it’s not going to affect him. With him, that confidence is always there.”
Maintaining that mindset will be important for Osama as Alabama embarks on a “murderer’s row” of an SEC schedule.
Including the Crimson Tide, who is ranked No. 16, the SEC currently has five teams ranked in the top-25. Alabama is scheduled to play the other four, starting with a home match against No. 20 LSU on Friday at 6 p.m.
The tough slate ahead of Osama will help him prepare to make another run at an NCAA Championship.