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Serena Williams: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods lead career tributes after US Open exit

Williams suffered a third-round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic at the US Open; 40-year-old is expected to retire from competitive tennis, having won 23 Grand Slam titles during a 27-year professional career

Serena Williams reacts during a women's singles match at the 2022 US Open, Friday, Sep. 2, 2022 in Flushing, NY. (Simon Bruty/USTA via AP)
Image: Is Serena Williams' US Open the end of her professional career?

Michelle Obama praised Serena Williams as "one of the greatest athletes of all time" as the tennis superstar played what was likely to be her final professional match.

The former first lady led tributes to her friend and her "amazing career," saying she would go on to "transform lives" with her talents.

Famous faces including Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Hudson and Tiger Woods also hailed Williams as a "legend forever".

The multi-Grand Slam winner bowed out of the third round of the US Open tournament on Friday night after losing in three sets to Ajla Tomljanovic.

Serena Williams, of the United States, waves to fans after losing to Ajla Tomljanovic, of Austrailia, in the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Image: Serena Williams waves to fans after losing to Ajla Tomljanovic at Flushing Meadows

The tournament is expected to be her last, with her previous victories against Danka Kovinic and Anett Kontaveit giving fans hope her swansong could have a fairytale ending.

But, despite a memorable second-set fightback in a raucous atmosphere, there will be no record-equalling 24th grand slam singles title, with Williams succumbing to a 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 loss.

"Congrats on an amazing career, @SerenaWilliams!" Obama tweeted. "How lucky were we to be able to watch a young girl from Compton grow up to become one of the greatest athletes of all time.

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"I'm proud of you, my friend - and I can't wait to see the lives you continue to transform with your talents."

US talk show host Winfrey added: "25 years. Champion. Shero. Legend forever!"

Multi-award-winning actress Hudson, who recently achieved the coveted Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (EGOT) award status, wrote: "Serena !!! U have inspired us all. Thank u for showing us what greatness looks like!"

US actress and producer Elizabeth Banks, tweeted: "Thank you @serenawilliams for inspiring us for so long. May you feel the love tonight!"

Woods said it had been "a privilege to watch greatness" following the game and tweeted: ".@serenawilliams you're literally the greatest on and off the court. Thank you for inspiring all of us to pursue our dreams. I love you little sis!!!!!!"

A host of other celebrities have been pictured over the last week at the US Open to watch Williams play including Anna Wintour and Spike Lee.

Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor, Jared Leto, Gigi and Bella Hadid, musician Seal, and Zendaya have also been spotted at the tournament. The Spider-Man star also lent her voice to a Nike campaign in honour of Williams, which was released following the conclusion of the match.

"When the world wanted her to be less powerful, she hit even harder," Zendaya is heard to say, over archive footage of the tennis star's career. "She refused to hide her flair, or what was on her mind. She couldn't stop
winning. Over and over and over again.

"She didn't change who she was, and that changed everything, for all of us."

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