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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | TENNIS / DAVID WHARTON

They're Courting a Friendship

July 26, 1998|DAVID WHARTON

Thousands of miles separate them.

Erica Sauer is home in Somis, preparing for a national junior championship.

Zuzana Stunova is home in the Czech Republic, preparing to play a series of professional tournaments.

But come September, Erica and Zuzana will reunite. Zuzana will stay with the Sauer family for a few days and, as usual, the 19-year-old will spend a good portion of her visit on the backyard tennis court with 12-year-old Erica.

Tennis bridges the gap between their ages. It accentuates the similarities between two young women from half a world apart.

They love the sport. They are intensely competitive.

"We go at it on the court," Zuzana said. "She always thinks she can beat me."

The friendship began four years ago when Zuzana, an exchange student at Rio Mesa High, lived with the Sauers. She came to this country as a top-ranked junior and won consecutive Southern Section titles.

Erica was just beginning to play tennis and looked up to Zuzana.

"She really took off when Zuzana moved in," said Karen Sauer, her mother. "It really got her started."

Erica was hungry to learn whatever she could. She developed a game predicated on movement and solid strokes from the baseline. There also was strategy, the mental and emotional components of tennis.

"We hit a lot and it really helped me improve," Erica said. "She always told me that when you take a loss, don't worry about it."

Zuzana delights in the presence of children. Tennis only strengthened the bond she formed with Erica.

"Erica really works hard and she likes to play," Zuzana said. "She was getting better and better. It was really fun to watch her."

Now at the University of Washington, Zuzana began her sophomore season as the No. 27th-ranked player in the nation but a string of losses dropped her to No. 70, just out of the running for the 64-player draw at the NCAA women's championships.

So she is working on her game back home, trying to be more patient in the backcourt while always looking for an opportunity to hit an approach shot and come to the net.

She is hoping to make amends for last season.

Erica, for one, is confident.

"I went and watched her at [the Ojai Valley tournament] last April," she said. "I think she's getting better, especially her intensity."

It was another lesson to be learned, especially because Erica was disappointed in her own intensity during a championship match loss at the Southern California Junior Sectional in June.

Still, her results in the 12-and-under division have given her hope for a high national ranking.

"She's very confident," Zuzana said. "It's not like she is mean to people.

It's a good confidence. She thinks she's going to win."

Even when she gets her old friend from the Czech Republic on that backyard court.

Just wait until September.

"Oh yeah," Erica said. "We'll play."

*

While Sauer travels to Georgia for the national hardcourt championships, Jenny Munroe of Hart High will be in Salt Lake City for a 16-and-under USTA zonal tournament.

This is the same 15-year-old who struggled through an elbow injury last year to finish second in the Foothill League.

She has recovered and is on a roll, having won singles titles at junior tournaments in Ventura and Los Angeles in recent weeks. But it was another event--one she did not win--that has given her game an even bigger boost.

Last November, Munroe played in the girls' 14-and-under national indoor championship in St. Louis. She reached the third round before losing to a top-10 player, then beat the 30th-ranked girl in the backdraw.

"For that being my first national tournament, I got a long way," she said. "I was very proud."

Dave Munroe, her father and the Hart girls' basketball coach, explained: "That gave her a lot of confidence. Now she goes in knowing she can play with these girls."

*

Sargis Sargsian might seem like just another face in the draw at the Mercedes-Benz Cup, which will feature Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic and Tim Henman when play begins on Monday.

But Sargsian, a native of Yerevan, Armenia, proved to be a favorite of the Glendale Armenian community during a USTA Challenger tournament in Burbank last November.

In that tournament, he drew almost as many cheers, and almost as many fans, as Agassi, who beat him in the final.

On Monday, Sargsian plays sixth-seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa in a first-round match at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.

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