GUADALAJARA, Mexico - Marie Bouzkova endeared the Abierto GNP Seguros crowd not only with her stylish swings, but also with her Spanish, which she employed un poquito despite a disappointing defeat in the final against Elina Svitolina.
"Maybe they’re making a little fun of me, but it’s ok," she said of Sunday's runner-up speech. "I love when I'm able to say something funny to someone in his or her language, to make them laugh. Many times, I’ve spoken Spanish with Sara Sorribes Tormo, and I’ll end up inventing a word because I’m just improvising, or taking an English word and making it sound Spanish!"
Into the Top 50 for the first time, Bouzkova largely let her racquet do the talking in Monterrey, rolling into her first WTA final without dropping a set - scoring her first Top 20 win of the season over British No.1 Johanna Konta.
"She’s been feeling her knee, so for me, it was a very mental match because I knew she wasn’t 100% but she’d still be fighting to get through it. When I won, I was really happy and emotional at the end, especially because of how much the crowd had been supporting me. They’re so nice! Looking back now, it’s amazing; growing up, I was watching WTA tournaments, so being in a final myself was really special."
The Czech star began the new decade as one to watch after she nearly stole the show at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, making a maiden Premier 5 semifinal and pushing 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams to three sets. She ended the year ranked World No.53 from a low of No.130, and though early losses to Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka at the Brisbane International and Australian Open stunted her 2020 rise, they did little to squelch her optimism.
"I started really well in Brisbane, making it through qualifying. I had some tough draws but in the end, my goal was to learn from them. I couldn’t win those matches, but I tried to only take positives from them and what I can improve. I think that’s what I did; I kept working hard and it all came together well in Monterrey."
Against Svitolina, she rallied from a set down and treated the fans to a tense ending as she broke the former World No.3 as she served for the match.
"The final gave me so much. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy for me to concentrate with all the new things around me. In the end, I put everything together and Elina and I put on a great show."
What a week❤️ Gave it everything in my first @WTA final and that amazing atmosphere⚡️🇲🇽 Thank you for your support, #teamMary✨ / Muchas gracias @Abierto_GNP por tanto cariño y emociones❤️ nunca voy a olvidar Monterrey🇲🇽 nos vemos el año que viene!! #Top50 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/8M9ioldvYz— Marie Bouzkova (@MarieBouzkova) March 9, 2020
The 21-year-old was her effortlessly ebullient self over the phone on Tuesday, chatting from a mall after flying straight to Guadalajara - with plans to play the Abierto Zapopan, a WTA 125K tournament where she finished runner-up to Veronika Kudermetova last year.
"I was able to find my picture on the floor of the airport right when I arrived. That felt amazing. I haven’t practiced here yet, but I already feel at home. We have a restaurant that I went to every day last year. We became friends with the owner, and he came to watch my matches last year."
Bouzkova has only felt the fan support grow in the 52 weeks since, hashtagging #TeamMary - a nod to what has become something of a stage name - to rally her followers on social media.
"Since I started coming to the States when I was 10, everyone would call me Mary, so I've still kept that nickname. Personally, I prefer Marie, but because I know so many people call me Mary, I’ll stick with the hashtag as well. I’m trying to keep it simple for them."
Simple too are her goals going forward; where most players talk about just wanting to stay healthy, Bouzkova shared some sound advice on how to do just that.
"My mom has been sending me messages, reminding me to wash my hands and not bite my nails! She’s putting a lot of pressure on me, and my dad too to make sure we do it. She’s not here but still making sure we don’t forget!"