The sunny young lady with the bouncy blonde ponytail made her first trip to Wimbledon’s main draw a month ago.
On her way to … somewhere, she noticed that a legend was practicing on small Court 14.
So she stopped and took a close-up look at her idol.
That young girl was Marie Bouzkova, who was to make her Wimbledon debut as a lucky loser.
The legend was Serena Williams, who was practicing with another legend – her sister Venus.
Bouzkova, then 20, had always wanted to play her. After when the qualifier won her Rogers Cup quarterfinal round Friday, after Simona Halep had to retire after the first set with an Achilles issue, she said as much.
“Serena has been my role model growing up. So, you know, the way I play, you know, my technique, you know, is little bit — you know, the backhand is little bit similar to hers,” Bouzkova said.
“She’s always been the one that I’ve been watching the most. … She’s been always the one that I wanted to play. And, you know, I have always watched her so much in the TV when I was at home.”
On Saturday night in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup, she got her chance.
Return trip to Canada – in better circumstances
A year ago, Bouzkova also was playing in Canada.
Except – it was in Granby, Quebec, a small town about an hour outside Montreal.
She was the No. 2 seed, ranked No. 161 at the ITF event held there. And she lost her second-round match to … Akiko Omae of Japan, ranked No. 646.
The Czech Republic native will be close to the top 50 next Monday, even if she doesn’t beat Williams Saturday night.
Because yes, Bouzkova went from the qualifying, to the semis, in just a week’s time in Toronto.
Here she is a week ago, playing before a few fans on Court 5 against Jovana Jaksic, in the first round of qualifying.
Court 5 is the last court on the list at the Aviva Centre. There aren’t even any seats to watch. Bouzkova didn’t really merit more; she was only the No. 18 seed in the qualifying.
Her first-round, main-draw win over 16-year-old Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez was a 6-0, 6-1 dismantling. But you couldn’t predict her run from that win. Fernandez was visibly nervous in her Rogers Cup debut.
If it weren’t for the fact that local heroine Bianca Andreescu has made the final in historic fashion, Bouzkova would have been the Cinderella story of the tournament.
Full circle – from Andreescu to … Andreescu?
Sometimes, the symmetry of things is amazing.
The only match that Rogers Cup finalist Andreescu played between Miami in mid-March and her first-round match at the Rogers Cup was at the French Open.
Andreescu played … Bouzkova.
Bouzkova had been beaten in the final round of qualifying by Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, but got into the tournament as a lucky loser.
It was a rough one. Andreescu came into the French Open reportedly pain-free, but untested.
The match against Bouzkova, which she won 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, took more than three hours and was spread over two days.
After that, Andreescu was to play … Sofia Kenin in the second round. Except she withdrew before that match. And she hadn’t played since, until she returned in Toronto.
And on Saturday, Andreescu beat Kenin to reach the Rogers Cup final.
What we remember most about Bouzkova in that match, beyond her fight, was that she was in tears when it was over. It would have been her first main-draw win at a Grand Slam, and she was exhausted.
Still, she mustered up a smile and spent at least 10 minutes taking photos and signing autographs for a group of Czech fans.
Wimbledon a dream come true
When she lost in the final round of qualifying at Roehampton, Bouzkova was a looong way from the All-England Club.
Before her first-round win over Veronica Cepede Royg, she was warming herself up, hitting balls into a net that was attacked to a cricket practice pitch.
Just four days later, she was strolling the All-England Club when she ran into her idol.
And even after her second-round loss to Sakkari, she was able to smile with family and friends as soon as she walked off the court. Perhaps that resilience and generally sunny outlook is why she’s been able to play week after week, for five years – until she finally earned a breakthrough.
US Open was Slam debut
Some 10 months before that, Bouzkova qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw. She defeated Ann Li, former top prospect Marta Kostyuk, and big-serving Georgina Garcia-Perez in the final round of the US Open.
She lost in the first round to Ana Bogdan of Romania.
The major tournaments were exceptions in a season that took Bouzkova all the way down to the $25,000 level.
She played 27 events, beginning in Playford, Australia and ending in Houston in November 2018. Only in August did she take a break from the Tour. For all we know, she was playing club tennis in Europe; it seems she just won’t stop.
In 2019, she’s been just as busy.
21st tournament of 2019
The Rogers Cup is Bouzkova’s 21st tournament in a schizophrenic schedule that had her down at the $25,000 level as recently as two weeks before the French.
After her Wimbledon experience, where she defeated Mona Barthel in the first round before losing to Maria Sakkari, she headed for a $80,000 ITF in Kazakhstan. She won it, without having to face a player ranked inside the top 250, and earned just over $12,000.
A week later, she was playing the Premier event in San Jose where she lost to Coco Vandeweghe in the first round, in Vandeweghe’s first match all season.
And a week after that, she was starting her Rogers Cup campaign.
With all that tennis, and with all the running and grinding she does to win points – and, at 5-foot-11, her movement and retrieving skills are off the charts – there is no tape or signs of injury.
Bouzkova is the ultimate grinder. And five years after she became the US Open junior champion, all that grinding is finally paying off.
Beyond the ranking jump, she will earn more than $125,000 US for making the semis, more if she can move on.