Serena Williams ended a three-year title drought and donated her winner’s cheque to victims of the Australian bushfires in an emotional WTA Auckland Classic final on Sunday.

Williams raised expectations for this month’s Australian Open, where she can equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, with her 6-3, 6-4 victory – her first WTA trophy since she won in Melbourne in 2017.

But the 38-year-old tempered celebrations as she donated her US$43,000 winners cheque to the Australian bushfire relief fund and described how the tragedy had affected her deeply.

It is Williams’ first title since 2017 – and her first as a mother – since she won the Australian Open while pregnant. Her 73 WTA titles now stretch across four decades, after she won her first in 1999.

Pegula, who has only one title to her credit, had stunned former world number one Caroline Wozniacki – a close friend of Williams – in a three-set semi-final, winning every game in the deciding set.

Williams, whose last tournament was the US Open in September, was looking for as much game time as possible in Auckland and an hour after winning the singles crown she was back on court partnering Wozniacki in the doubles final.

However, the pair were beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Americans Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend.