After five missed attempts to hold her 73rd WTA title, including four Grand Slam finals, Serena Williams completed the task on Sunday in Auckland, defeating fellow American Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 6-4. It is Williams' first final-round win since the 2017 Australian Open, before her daughter Olympia was born.
"I feel so fortunate and blessed to just be out here," said Williams, who held Olympia along with the hardware in a memorable photo.
The big stage didn't seem to faze the 25-year-old Pegula, who has one WTA title to her name. She got off to a quick start by breaking Serena in the opening game. With Serena unable to find her radar, Pegula made it known that she doesn't need a second invitation to pull the trigger.
Pegula, who had an opportunity to go up a double break, wasn't able to convert, and it was all the opening Serena required. Trailing 3-2, the 23-time Grand Slam champion pushed Pegula off the court with heavy groundstrokes, and broke her compatriot to turn the match around.
From there, the No. 1 seed continued to find her sweet spot, and began to put together a run akin to her semifinal rout of Amanda Anisimova. Capturing four consecutive games, Serena would run away with the first set.
Pegula didn't wither away, but like Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, once Serena finds her rhythm, she's nearly impossible to stop. Still, Serena has stumbled in recent finals, and she did an excellent job at maintaining her composure, and staying focused on the task at hand.
"I was definitely improving as the week went on and obviously I needed to, because I feel like I've had a lot of tough matches," Williams said.
With the devastating conditions in Australia persisting, Serena announced during the trophy ceremony that she will be donating her prize money, along with a dress from every match she's played this week in Auckland, toward the country's bushfire relief.
The 23-time major champion has now won a singles title in four different decades.