Auckland (AFP)

Serena Williams was stripped of the title for almost three years and ended the famine on Sunday in Auckland. The former world No.1 won the final of the tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, claiming her first trophy since the 2017 Australian Open.

The 38-year-old American announced that she would donate her earnings, a check for $ 43,000 (about 38,600 euros) to the victims of the fires in eastern Australia. These forest fires have already ravaged more than 8 million hectares, killed at least 26 people, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and killed a billion animals.

"I've been playing in Australia for over 20 years and it's really hard for me to watch the news and see what's going on, all these fires ... these (dead) animals and all these people who lost their accommodation, "said Serena Williams.

With this victory over compatriot Jessica Pegula, 82nd in the world, in two innings (6-3, 6-4), the youngest of the Williams sisters won her 73rd career title, the first as a mother, who had given birth of a girl named Olympia in September 2017.

Since her return to post-maternity competition in March 2018 at Indian Wells, she had played five finals, including four in the Grand Slam, but had lost them all. She had fallen on the bottom step at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018, again at Wimbledon and at the US Open last year as well as in Toronto.

"It's been a long time. I think you can read the relief on my face," said the US champion after the meeting.

- Record goal in Melbourne -

The Auckland tournament has nothing to do in terms of prestige, with all these events where the former queen of the WTA had failed in the past two years.

It was mainly for the American to take care of her preparation for the Australian Open scheduled from January 20 to February 2 in Melbourne where she will once again try to equal the record for titles in Grand Slam. A single major trophy separates her from the Australian Margaret Court who holds 24.

In Melbourne, Serena Williams will have to win seven matches and will certainly defeat opponents much tougher than those encountered this week. In Auckland, the highest ranked player she faced was her 18-year-old compatriot Amanda Anisimova, 25th in the world, on Saturday in the semi-finals.

It is in front of this nugget of Russian origin, which was revealed last year when reaching the last four of Roland-Garros, that the ex-world N.1 accomplished his most authoritative performance of the week , yielding only two games (6-1, 6-1).

"I was really in a state of grace today. I knew I was facing an excellent player and that I had to do my best," said the winner of 23 major trophies.

- Entrance break -

The other adversaries that Serena Williams defeated in New Zealand are the Italian Camila Giorgi, ex-26th world descended to 99th rank (1st round), the American Christina McHale (86th, 2nd round), the German Laura Siegemund (73rd , quarter-final) and therefore Pegula Sunday in the epilogue of the tournament.

The 25-year-old American, who won her first (and only) trophy last year in Washington, did not have the favor of the forecasts but did not dismount. Victorious of a former world N.1, the Danish Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals on Saturday, Pegula continued her momentum, paying the pellet of entry breaker Serena Williams.

The Buffalo, New York, native led 3-1 before Williams accelerated to stack five games in a row and clinch the first set. In the second run, she gave up Pegula in her second game of service (2-1) and retained her advantage until the end, ending a period of almost three years without a trophy.

© 2020 AFP