TORONTO, Canada - Marie Bouzkova just can’t stop smiling in Toronto. And she just can’t stop winning here either: the 21-year-old qualified for the Rogers Cup main draw for the first time, and a few matches later stunned the No.7-seeded Sloane Stephens in straight sets to score her first ever Top 10 win.
"I honestly still can't believe it,” Bouzkova said after the second-round, 6-2, 7-5 victory. “Coming through the qualies, I got comfortable on the court. I just went out there, trying to enjoy and fight for every ball, and somehow, I got the win."
After such a thrilling run in the Ontarian capital, most twenty-somethings would be eager to go out and celebrate their successes - but Bouzkova prefers a slightly more low-key way to unwind.
“I honestly love to study after my matches,” Bouzkova told wtatennis.com, before dissolving into giggles. “For the past few days after I finish my matches, we have something to eat here then we go to the hotel and I’m there from like four. The first thing I do is open the computer and I study.”
Bouzkova is studying Business Administration at Indiana University East, which has a partnership with the WTA that allows players to pursue post-secondary education while on the road. In fact, the Czech player said that Canvas, an online-learning app for lectures and homework, is the most used app on her phone.
“I know that’s kind of sad, but it is what it is,” Bouzkova joked.
Balancing a professional tennis career with a full school workload is a tough job, Bouzkova acknowledged, but it’s one that she’s used to after leaving the Czech Republic as a nine-year-old to train at the prestigious Bollettieri Academy in South Florida and commuting between both countries.
Born in Prague to a family of lifelong tennis fans, Bouzkova picked up the sport at a young age. She recalls learning to play at her parents’ tennis club, and spending hours hitting with everyone - even grandma, who still plays four times a week. After showing early signs of promise, Bouzkova and dad Milan Bouzek decided to take the next step in a budding career.
“When I was nine or 10, we came to the States to see how I am compared to the other kids from around the world,” Bouzkova recalled. The test proved to be a success, with Bouzkova going on to spend a couple of crucial years at Bollettieri Academy.
In fact, it was on those very courts where Bouzkova picked up her most distinctive on-court accessory: an enormous water bottle that practically dwarfs the 5’9” player.
After looking around and noticing that everyone else carried a giant water bottle to combat the Florida heat and humidity, Bouzkova noticed that one bottle in particular didn’t shed condensation. So, she immediately bought it off the player.
“Yeah, we bought it from some random girl who was just practicing there,” she laughed. “I kept drinking from that bottle for like three years, and then, I don’t know, I’ve always just looked it up on Amazon and just got a new bottle.
“Now, I honestly can’t think of playing a match without the bottle. It just became a part of me, and now that I think about it it’s been more than 10 years that I’ve been playing with it.”
Through those 10 well-hydrated years, Bouzkova’s journey through the ranks has been a slow and steady rise, capped off by a run to the 2014 Junior Wimbledon final. With Spanish coach Cristian Requeni now working alongside her dad, her transition from juniors to the professional circuit has been seamless: she’s amassed 10 ITF titles since 2014 - capturing at least one or more every year.
“It’s always been the goal of me and my dad to go slowly and not push things too fast,” Bouzkova said. “That’s been kind of our plan since I was 12: to go slowly and not pay attention if some other players might get there faster. So far it’s been working pretty well, to go slowly and get there at my own pace.”
This year, it’s all finally clicked together for Bouzkova, who now sits at a career-high ranking of World No.91 and is enjoying her first week inside the WTA’s Top 100. From winning her first WTA match last year in Quebec City, Bouzkova has gone on to reach her first WTA 125K final in Guadalajara, win her first Grand Slam main draw match and, of course, claim her first Top 10 victory this week.
At Wimbledon, Bouzkova made waves when, after losing in the last round of qualifying, she came back as a lucky loser to defeat Mona Barthel in the first round.
“Wimbledon is probably the most special place where you can have your first Grand Slam win. It was a very nice moment, and I guess… I got kind of relieved after that as well. I trusted my game a little bit more and now I’m enjoying.”
A week later, full of confidence after her dream Grand Slam run, Bouzkova took the court at the ITF 80K in Nur-Sultan (Astana) and lifted the trophy in singles and doubles, cementing her rise into the WTA’s Top 100.
“I think that’s like everyone’s dream, to be Top 100, and then you’ll see what you can do afterwards,” she reflected. “But it’s like the first goal of everyone that plays tennis. So to finally get it, it felt great.
“Actually, when we were coming from that tournament [in Nur-Sultan] and going to San Jose, one person on the plane asked me what’s my ranking, and I was like, “92!” And then I was like, oh, whoa.
“It just felt incredible. That’s when I realized how special it means.”
Already into her best result at a Premier-level event, Bouzkova continues her Rogers Cup journey on Thursday in the third round, where she awaits the winner between French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.