AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Tennis star Serena Williams won her first title in three years and donated the prize money to help those affected by devastating wildfires in Australia.
Williams beat fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win the singles final at the ASB Classic in New Zealand.
She hadn't won a title since the Australian Open in January 2017, and not since she became a mother to her daughter Olympia, who was court-side to see the victory.
Serena Williams of the USA celebrates with daughter Alexis Olympia after winning the final match against Jessica Pegula of USA at ASB Tennis Centre on Jan. 12, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
"It feels good. It's been a long time," Williams said. "I think you can see the relief on my face."
She continued: “I played an incredible opponent today in Jessica and, honestly, it was a great match and I couldn't have played anyone better in the final.”
The 23-time major winner announced that she would donate her $43,000 winner's check to the fundraising appeal for victims of Australian wildfires, joining many other tennis stars, such as Ash Barty, Nick Kygrios, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who have pledged money to the already months-long fire emergency there.
At least least 27 people have been killed in the flames, which have also destroyed more than 2,000 homes and scorched an area larger than the U.S. state of Indiana since September. Four of the casualties have been firefighters.
President Donald Trump tweeted: "Congratulations to @serenawilliams on another big win. She is a great player and an even greater person. Our members in Virginia (Tennis) will never forget you!"
Williams was with Trump at the 2015 opening of the Trump Tennis Center.
Williams was under pressure at first against the 25-year-old Pegula, playing in her third WTA final, but asserted herself more as the match went on to claim her 73rd win in 98 finals and to add her name to a trophy won by her sister, Venus, in 2015.
The last three years have been challenging for Williams as she juggled competing demands of tennis and motherhood. But she seemed to turn a corner during a demanding week in which she played both doubles and singles, turning out on all seven days of the tournament.
She was frequently behind in her matches but showed typical determination to fight her way to the final and overcome Pegula, who ousted former top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.
“It feels that I was definitely improving as the week went on,” William said.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.