AUCKLAND • Serena Williams' last title came at the 2017 Australian Open so it would have been understandable had the former world No. 1 chosen to bask in the moment.
But after beating fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Auckland Open yesterday to end a three-year drought, she instead drew attention to the ongoing bush-fire crisis Down Under.
Williams told the crowd that she would be contributing to the relief funds, saying: "I've been playing in Australia for more than 20 years, it has been hard for me to be watching the news with all the fires.
"So much has happened that I decided I'd donate all my dresses from my matches and all my prize money for a great cause. So thank you guys."
By giving up her US$43,000 (S$58,000) winner's cheque, Williams has joined other tennis stars, including Ashleigh Barty, Nick Kygrios, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who have pledged money to the already months-long wildfire emergency.
While the Auckland Open field was not stacked with big names, it was still a monumental victory for the 38-year-old Williams, who lifted a trophy for the first time in front of daughter Olympia.
The past three years have been challenging for Williams as she juggled to competing demands of tennis and motherhood.
Since the 2017 Australian Open, Williams has reached five finals - including two at Wimbledon and two at the US Open - but lost in all.
She was also facing a tricky opponent in Pegula, whose 82nd ranking belies her ability, and with no previous career meetings between them.
The daughter of billionaire Terry Pegula, owner of the US National Football League team Buffalo Bills, has shown solid improvement since overcoming a serious knee injury two years ago and won her maiden WTA title in Washington last August.
Pegula even broke Williams in the opening game and was dominant for the first half of the first set, before the 23-time Grand Slam winner asserted herself to claim her 73rd win in 98 finals.
Amount Serena Williams won, then donated to relief funds for the bush-fire crisis in Australia.
After adding her name to a trophy won by her sister, Venus, in 2015, she said: "It feels good. It's been a long time. You can see the relief on my face.
"I played an incredible opponent today in Jessica. It was a great match and I couldn't have played anyone better in the final.
"It feels that I was definitely improving as the week went on. I feel fortunate and blessed to be out here, and to be healthy and to play.
"I've been playing for so long and been through so much. I'm happy to be doing something I love."
Williams, whose husband Alexis Ohanian was watching on, could have had two titles on the same day.
However, she and partner Caroline Wozniacki lost 6-4, 6-4 in the doubles final to Americans Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS