Serena Williams won her first singles title since giving birth, defeating unseeded American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 to win the ASB Classic on Sunday in Auckland, New Zealand.
Though the implications for next week’s Australian Open are unclear, it was abundantly clear how much this long-awaited victory meant to the 38-year-old Williams.
After finishing off the match with a backhand winner down the line, she thrust both arms into the air, looked skyward and roared for several seconds.
“Finally,” she said to herself after shaking Pegula’s hand.
It had been almost three years since Williams’s last title, which came at the 2017 Australian Open when she was, unbeknown to the wider world, nearly two months pregnant with her daughter, Olympia.
Since returning to the tour in early 2018, six months after giving birth, Williams reached five other finals, failing to win a set in any of them.
Big-match nerves have been an issue. So has the quality of the opposition.
Williams was defeated in finals by establishment figures, losing at Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber in 2018 and to Simona Halep in 2019.
She was defeated by powerful youngsters making breakthroughs, losing in the finals of the United States Open to Naomi Osaka in 2018 and Bianca Andreescu in 2019.
But Williams, despite all that she has achieved in more than 20 years on tour, including 23 Grand Slam singles wins, is still hungry for more. That was obvious in Auckland, as she launched her 2020 season by fighting off the rust and a series of much younger opponents, including 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova, an American on the rise who was not yet born when Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 U.S. Open.
Williams’s 6-1, 6-1 demolition of the 25th-ranked Anisimova in the semifinals was her most impressive performance of the week, but she also hit plenty of high notes against Pegula after losing her opening service game and falling behind, 1-3.
From there, she settled into a deeper groove. Though she finished with only two aces, she did not drop her serve again, generating her trademark depth and power from the baseline and also looking unusually sharp as she transitioned to the net.
Down the stretch, she produced a deft drop shot and touch volley winners. And when it came time to close out the match at 5-4 in the second set, she held serve at love to win her 73rd tour singles title.
“It feels good,” Williams said. “It’s been a long time. I’ve been waiting two years for this moment. I think you could see the relief on my face.”