The most wonderful time of the year has come again for Marie Bouzkova, who has already spotted Christmas lights adorning the palm trees around her North American home base in Florida.

Bouzkova built on a breakthrough 2019 season with a maiden WTA final appearance, where she pushed Elina Svitolina through three tough sets at the Abierto GNP Seguros.

GALLERY: Northern Light - Bouzkova's Alaskan adventure

Though a global pandemic soon followed, the perennially positive 22-year-old made the most of a strange season, scoring two more Top 20 wins over Johanna Konta - who she also beat in Monterrey - and countrywoman Petra Kvitova, ending the season just shy of her career-high ranking of No.46. Her good-natured approach to a challenging first full year on tour won over her fellow WTA players, who voted to give Bouzkova the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award.

Bouzkova continued to keep things interesting in the off-season, taking a trip through snowy Alaska and picking up a new hobby on the dance floor. She spoke to wtatennis.com on Monday on all that, plus how she looks back on an unforgettable 2020, the importance of social media sabbaticals, and her favorite holiday traditions as Christmas Eve approaches.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On winning the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award…
My manager called me the day before it was announced, and asked me if I’d checked my e-mail. I said no, because I’d just arrived on court for practice, and he told me he had good news for me and that I’d better sit down. I had no idea what it could be, and I was honestly quite shocked to win this award. When you think about it, it was really just my first full year on the WTA tour, and so I wouldn’t have expected to win such a weighty and prestigious award. I’m very humbled that other players see me as a respectful person who promotes sportsmanship on and off the court.

On taking an off-season trip to Alaska…
I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska because I love nature. I was just never brave enough to even think about making the trip. Maybe because this year was so weird, after my last tournament, I decided to do something I would normally ever do. I even went alone, so my parents needed a minute to process that I was taking this big trip on my own. They supported me and I actually had a really great time. It was relaxing, but every day I did at least two activities. For the first day, I hiked about eight miles and the next day we did another three miles along a glacier. We visited the ice museum and did some sight-seeing on a boat. It was busy, but in a different way.

I spent a full four days hiking and exploring, and on the fifth day, we took a 12-hour train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage. It took us through Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley, or rather, Denali. Every day I was on tours with different people, which was nice because I got to be around people outside of tennis. We would share a van, and when we would introduce ourselves, I would say I played tennis. They would ask if I played professionally, about my ranking, and two of them knew me from watching tennis and told me they’d seen me play on TV!

Photo by Marie Bouzkova

I’m pretty used to organizing everything myself. When I was smaller, I would travel a lot with my dad, who didn’t speak a lot of English, and so he left a lot of things up to me. I planned the trip for about three months before I left, but in a place like that, there’s only so many things to do, and with COVID-19, I wasn’t sure how the activities would be affected by restrictions and health protocols. About ten days before I left, I made a call to Travel Alaska, the Alaskan tourism bureau, and they recommended several guided tours based on what I wanted to see. I ended up having a pretty busy schedule through the six days that I was there. I saw so much nature.

I bought a professional camera for the trip, and took about 1500 photos, but ended up not posting anything about it on social media, maybe for my mental health! I was just so happy to have made the trip on my own, and it felt like a personal accomplishment - even without any feedback from social media.

Photo by Marie Bouzkova

On how she spent the COVID-19 lockdown…
When I think about where we all were in March and April, there was such shock at the idea that there would be no tournaments. Now it feels very normal, and we’re just happy to have anything take place at all. During that time, I kept practicing hard, playing some Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) tournaments around Florida; in fact, I played one again just this past weekend. Those have helped me adjust to this new reality. The goal then, and now, has been just to be ready for whatever happens.

On quarantine pastimes…
In the past six weeks, I picked up a new hobby for myself and started ballroom dancing. I’m doing a little bit of everything: swing, waltz, rumba, and tango. I’m even doing some hustle, foxtrot, and jive. It was sort of a spontaneous idea I had once I returned from Alaska. I’ve always loved music and musicals, like Mamma Mia! or Dirty Dancing. I just enjoy it, have a passion for it, so it’s been fun to pursue in my off-time.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

On assessing the 2020 season… 
It’s obviously been a very difficult, tragic year. I think, and I’m not only speaking for myself, but perhaps also for other players, that it was a very eye-opening experience. I think I discovered things about myself that I may not have realized were it not for this COVID pandemic. I’ve tried to find good even through the bad, so even after everything that’s happen, I take only positives. I was able to train more and harder than I’ll hopefully ever have time to in the future, and I found ways to play tournaments and be successful despite limited opportunities.

On making improvements in practice… 
I’ve wanted to improve my overall level compared to where it was before, work on those little things like the serve, so I could have more weapons to lean on in matches. I feel like I did that, and hopefully I can maintain that level in tournaments next year.

On family in Florida and holiday plans…
It definitely feels great to spend Christmas with my little brother. He’s not even six years old yet, and that’s a very fun age to be and I love being able to see him grow. I’m definitely looking forward to baking some of our traditional Czech cookies. Just today, we’ve been promising to build him a gingerbread house, so we’re probably going to do that today! We’ll also put our Christmas tree up today, so it’s been exciting to spend this time together.

Marie Bouzkova ‘I felt more confident as the match went on’ | 2020 Cincinnati Post-Match Interview