AUCKLAND, New Zealand - 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams claimed her first title in three years - and her first since becoming a mother - after defeating Jessica Pegula in the ASB Classic final, 6-3, 6-4.
Serena played near perfect tennis in the semifinals to defeat rising American star Amanda Anisimova in 43-minutes. It proved to be the perfect preparation for Serena, who served two aces and dropped serve just once against Pegula to claim her 73rd career WTA title.
"It was a good match," assessed Serena afterwards. "I didn't have a lot of time to reflect on it because I went straight into [the] doubles [final, losing to Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend], but I remember it being really intense, actually. I don't think I hit a tremendous amount of aces - she was getting all my serves back. My groundstrokes were probably the strongest thing in that match. It's good for me to win matches where I'm not getting too many free points, so I have to rely on my groundstrokes."
In her winner’s speech during the trophy presentation, Serena also announced that she will be donating all of her prize money to the Australian bushfire relief fund, as well as auctioning off each dress she’s worn across her nine matches in Auckland.
Coming into the final, Serena hadn’t won a set in any of her previous post-maternity finals, falling twice in the championship round at Wimbledon and US Open as well as retiring in the first set of the 2019 Rogers Cup final.
History looked like it might be threatening to repeat itself as Pegula got off to a fast start in Auckland, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead after breaking in an edgy opening game. But the former World No.1 bounced right back, saving four break points to avoid a 0-3 deficit and leveling the score at 3-3. From there, Serena didn’t look back, and dialled up the aggression to close out the set 6-3.
"I definitely didn't have nerves," said Serena afterwards of her slow opening. "Did I get broken in the first game? I just didn't come out the way I should have, and she was playing well."
However, the former World No.1 remarked that she had needed to keep a positive mental attitude in order to come back. "You have to be your biggest cheerleader, especially if you're feeling you're not doing everything right - or even if you are doing everything right, but things aren't working out for you," she said.
Serena was dominant in the second set, covering the court and striking winners with ease, claiming the lone break at 2-1. She kept Pegula under pressure, creating eight break chances throughout the set. She needed four match points, but eventually the 38-year-old closed out the match after an hour and 36 minutes to return to the winners circle for the first time since her Australian Open 2017 victory.
It wasn't long before she was looking ahead to this year's Australian Open. "It's pretty satisfying just to get a win in the final," she acknowledged. "That was really important for me - and I just want to build on it. It's just a step towards the next goal."