Serena Williams ended a three-year title drought after winning the Auckland Classic with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jessica Pegula on Sunday, and the former world No 1 will donate her entire prize money to Australia's bushfire relief fund.
Williams, 38, last won a title at the 2017 Australian Open, after which she took off the remainder of that season to give birth to her daughter. Since returning in March 2018, the American has played a limited schedule due to fitness issues, but still reached four grand slam finals, finishing runner-up in each.
However, Williams returned to the winners' circle in Auckland after recovering from an early break to defeat fellow American Pegula in one hour and 35 minutes.
“It feels good, it’s been a long time. I think you could see the relief on my face," Williams said in her on-court interview. "I played an incredible opponent today in Jessica. Honestly great match, I couldn’t have played anyone better in this final and I’m proud of you. I know you work really hard and I know your coach really well so I always cheer for you, so congratulations.”
Winning the Auckland title is sure to raise expectations that Williams can go on to win the Australian Open next month, an achievement that would move her level with Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slam titles.
As a regular visitor to Australia over the past two decades - as well as being a seven-time champion in Melbourne - Williams revealed that she is contributing to the organisations that are providing support to those affected by the bushfires causing destruction across the country.
“I have been playing in Australia for over 20 years and it’s been really hard to watch all the news and everything that has been happening with all the fires," she said. "Over a billion animals [dead] and all the people who have lost their homes, so I decided at the beginning of the tournament to donate a dress [from every match] and also donate all my prize money for a great cause.”
As winner of the Auckland Classic, Williams won US$43,000 (Dh157,950).
Over at the Brisbane International, world No 2 Karolina Pliskova edged out American Madison Keys in a closely-fought final to successfully defend her title.
Pliskova, the second seed, defeated eighth-seeded Keys 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in a match that lasted two hours and seven minutes to win the tournament for the third time in four years.
"I always enjoy playing here, this is a great place for me," Pliskova said in her post-match speech. "I will be grateful to come back here every year and thank you for your support, it was amazing."