“I’ve been playing in Australia for over 20 years and it’s been really hard for me to watch all the news and everything that has been happening with all the fires,” she said. “Over a billion animals and people that have lost their homes. So much has happened, so I decided at the beginning of the tournament in every match I played I’d donate a dress and I’d also donate all my prize money for a great cause.”
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) January 12, 2020
The 38-year old tennis champion beat 25-year old American Jessica Pegula in straight sets 6-3, 6-4; making it her first championship win since defeating her sister Venus Williams in January 2017 at the Australian Open. Ten months later, she welcomed her daughter Olympia.
“It feels good, it has been a long time,” Williams said after the win. “I played an incredible opponent in Jessica and honestly it was a great match. I feel fortunate and blessed to be out here and to be healthy and to play. I have been playing for so long and been through so much and I’m happy to be doing something I love.”
The fires have so far claimed at least 24 human lives, destroyed more than 2000 homes, burned through more than 26 million acres and killed 25,000 koalas. If recent estimates by the Australian Koala Foundation of the animal’s population are accurate, that is one quarter of the surviving population; dead. A Victorian government report leaked to The Age reported that fires across the state have burned 31% of rainforests, 24% of wet or damp forests and 34% of lowland forests.
Williams has joined an expanding list of celebrities pledging money to the bushfire relief effort, including Bette Midler, Elton John, Chris Hemsworth and Kylie Jenner.
Williams’ win in Auckland over the weekend has gave the American her 73rd WTA title. The Australian Open win was her 23rd Grand Slam crown, and now, she aims to chase Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
Late last year, Williams was named one of two Associated Press ATHLETES of the decade, alongside LA Lakers star LeBron James. Mid-last year, Williams made history by becoming the first athlete to be included in Forbes’ annual list of the World’s Richest Self-Made Women.