Moving to the United States from the Czech Republic last year left Zuzana Stunova feeling as if she "knew nothing."
Stunova, 16, a foreign-exchange student attending Rio Mesa High, was confronted by, among other challenges, a new culture, a new school system and a new language.
Even tennis, her old standby, was played differently.
In her homeland, Stunova played tennis on clay courts, which are much slower than the hard courts prominent in the United States.
But that was the easiest of her many adjustments. "I like it much better," Stunova said of the faster hard-court surface. "It's easier for me because I hit the ball hard. It's better for my game."
As if her game needed to get much better.
Stunova, ranked fourth in the Southern California Tennis Assn.'s 16-and-under division, is among the top players participating in the Southern Section individual championships that will begin today at Lindborg Racquet Club in Huntington Beach.
Earlier this month, Stunova, a junior, won the Channel League individual championship by defeating Kara Warkentin of San Marcos, the runner-up last year in the Southern Section individual tournament. Stunova's set record is 40-1.
"My serve is much better than it was last year," she said. "I have never played as much tennis as I did in the last year. I have improved a lot."
But no matter how much her tennis game improves, it can only ease, not cure, her yearning for home.
"The hardest thing for me is that I miss my mom and my family," she said. "I only get to see them two or three times a year."
Stunova plans to visit her family for the Christmas break. She hopes to return home a Southern Section champion.