Twelve-year-old Kimberly Garcia was so new to junior tournament play that when she participated in her first tournament this spring, she didn't understand the scoring.
"I started pretty rough," she says. "After my first match, the girl I was playing came over, shook my hand and said, &‘Congratulations.' I didn't know what was going on.
"Little by little I started getting it."
She got it so well that by the end of the Belvedere-Tiburon Tournament that attracted club players from throughout Marin County, the Petaluma girl had won three matches, accepted another win by forfeit from a girl who was too sun burned to continue and finished first in her division.
Although she has been playing tennis since she was 3 years old, it was quite an accomplishment for a young player who competes and practices on the cracked courts at McNear Park near her westside home.
Garcia's father, Alberto Garcia, a tennis enthusiast, got his daughter started in tennis, but it wasn't until she began playing with an informal group of mostly adults who gather at the courts at McNear Park that she really became enthused about the sport.
Garcia admits that at first she wasn't all that excited about the game.
"When I was about five, I wasn't much interested," she explains. "But once I started playing more and more, I started to get more interested. At first, I was playing mostly adults, but now I'm beginning to play more girls my own age.
"The next thing I knew, I got caught up in the game. Now, it is pretty much all I do."
Like most athletes, Garcia loves those moments when everything clicks. "When I'm in the zone, I love it, " she explains. "I just live in the moment."
And "in the moment" is just about any time she is on the tennis courts.
"I have times when I get lazy," she admits. "There are times when I don't want to play, but then, when I get on the courts and start to warm up, I don't want to stop."
Both Garcia and her father credit Bill Kottinger, a member of the loose-knit McNear Tennis Club and a long-time Petaluma tennis player and advocate, for helping and tutoring the young player.
"Bill has helped a lot," Arturo Garcia said. "He has taught both me and Kimberly a lot."
Kottinger is impressed with Garcia. "I would estimate her serve at about 80 miles per hour and she has good form," he says. "She picks things up very quickly .
"By the time she is 16 or 17 she will have the ability to play in the national juniors. With Kim, the sky's the limit."
Garcia doesn't complain. She is grateful for the opportunity to play and compete, but Kottinger and her father say it has been difficult to play the game on a high level at the cracked McNear Park courts.
"The courts need to be fixed big time," Arturo Garcia says. "They should at least fix them a little."
"We're looking at ways to fix the courts," Kottinger points out. "There are packages available that could repair them with minimal expense."
Meanwhile, Garcia just wants to be on the courts where she can get into her zone and "just be in the moment."