By (Ben Boynton)

When the No. 32 Alabama men’s tennis team takes the court against No. 24 Mississippi State on Friday in Starkville, MS, the Crimson Tide will be looking to finish its last road match strongly. The Crimson Tide is 14-10 on the year, including an even 4-4 on the road. Facing another ranked SEC team, Friday’s match could come down to the wire.

Luckily for the Crimson Tide, it has someone with a little experience in those situations.

Sophomore Matthew Rossouw has been lining up at the number six singles spot for several weeks, but it’s his last three matches that Alabama should look to. He’s won all three matches, with from behind victories.

“I guess it’s due to all of the extra work I’ve put in recently,” Rossouw said. “Knowing that I’ve been doing extra work, I can back myself up and not panic if I get down in a match.”

Rossouw said he’s been spending more time outside of regularly scheduled practices and workouts hitting the courts alone for the sake of refining his game. That preparation pays dividends, perhaps especially when he loses his first set.

“I just tell myself that it still takes two sets to win the match,” Rossouw said. “I can’t focus on what’s already happened, I have to move on and try to just play my game and get right back into the match, and I think the extra time has helped me do that.”

“I think it’s partly his game and partly his desire to win,” coach George Husack said. “I think his game lends itself well to playing longer matches because of his physicality, but also once you win, you feel the hunger and desire to win again, and that can drive you to success.”

Rossouw plays a very unique brand of tennis. He thrives when he comes close to the net to hit shots, giving his opponents less time to react and less room to maneuver. It isn’t without its risks, as it also gives Rossouw less time to move and react, but he has been able to rally back by staying true to his style.

It isn’t just Rossouw that has been having success recently. Sophomore Korey Lovett and freshman Mazen Osama have played very well recently at the number one doubles spot, rising all the way to No. 6 in the nation in the most recent rankings released on April 4.

“Mazen and Korey really complement each other with their play styles,” Husack said. “Mazen is the sharpshooter, and Korey is the cannon.”

Osama’s game is predicated on finesse and technique, and Lovett’s is built around powerful shots. Husack pointed to volley returns as a perfect example of how they work well together. Osama likes to stick by the baseline and use ground shots to set up Lovett for a powerful forehand near the net.

It isn’t just Osama and Lovett that have played well in doubles. Alabama has earned the doubles point in 17 of the team’s 24 matches.

“You just try to put guys together that you think will mesh personality wise as well as on the court with their play styles,” Husack said. “Earlier in the season there was a time I thought I might have to switch things up, but for the most part we’ve had real success with doubles play this season.”

The team has put an emphasis in practice on the doubles point all season long. More time has been spent on making sure that pairs are in tune with each other and that they are experienced enough with each other’s styles that they can have success.

“We’ve been practicing a lot of doubles lately, and we’ve been really focusing from the beginning on the doubles point,” Osama said. “I feel like that’s not every team. A lot of teams have started late, and that’s something we do differently.”

Osama feels that the chemistry between him and Lovett has only gotten better with time.

“Me and Korey have played a lot of matches together, and the further you go into the season the better you start to know how each other plays,” Osama said. “We get to play to each other, and I think the way we connect to each other’s strengths makes us a good mix.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports