Serena ends WTA title drought in Auckland

Ben McKay
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New Zealand Tennis ASB Classic

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. celebrate her ASB Classic win

Serena Williams has her first WTA title as a mother, overpowering Jessica Pegula in the Auckland Classic final with a performance showing her readiness to contend again at the Australian Open.

Williams responded to early pressure before blowing away her compatriot 6-3 6-4 in New Zealand, winning in one hour and 35 minutes.

The 38-year-old was broken in the first game of the match and was a frustrated figure until she found her feet against the plucky world No.82, who reached the final with the semi-final scalp of Caroline Wozniacki.

Showing her trademark fortitude, Williams bludgeoned her way to the first set in 49 minutes, rattling off the final five games of the set with a succession of winners and fist pumps.

Williams took an early break in the second set, with the 25-year-old Pegula clinging to tight holds of serve that kept her alive.

Pegula dug deep to save three championship points before Williams duly served out for the tournament, throwing her hands in the air before almost collapsing onto the court.

"I've been waiting two years for this moment," Williams said, who returned to the tour in March 2018 after giving birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

"It feels good. It's been a long time. You can see the relief on my face."

Williams' success means she has won a title in four different decades, and for the first time, her two-year-old was in the audience to watch her lift a trophy.

Draped in a korowai for winning the tournament and holding her daughter in one arm and the trophy in another, Williams beamed.

"I'm a little biased but she's so cute," Williams said.

Williams also announced she will donate her US$43,000 (A$62,300) winner's cheque towards Australian bushfires relief.

While the 73rd title of Williams' career is unlikely to feature in any career highlights, it is undoubtedly significant.

In defeating Pegula, Williams put to bed a five-final losing streak since her last title, the 2017 Australian Open.

That run includes four defeats in grand slam finals - twice at Wimbledon and the US Open.

The New Zealand win also means, for the first time, the 23-time major winner will arrive at Melbourne Park with a title already in the bag for the year.

Given her hardcourt form and record at Melbourne Park, where she is a seven-time champion, Williams might never get a better opportunity to win a coveted 24th grand slam than this month.

Another major for the legendary American would see her match the record held by Australian great Margaret Court.

Williams' successful week in Auckland also included a 43-minute beatdown of world No.25 Amanda Anisimova in the semi-finals, and defeats of top-100 players Laura Siegemund, Christina McHale and Camila Giorgi.

Only McHale managed to take a set off Williams, who also reached the final of the doubles event with Wozniacki - which the pair lost 6-4 6-4 to American duo Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad.