Is Zendaya’s Challengers Based on a True Story?

Under the direction of Luca Guadagnino, ‘Challengers’ introduces us to an uninhibited rising star in tennis, Tashi, who is forced to enter management and coaching after a terrible injury. On her new career path, Tashi’s only client is her husband, Art, who has become a powerful force in tennis with her backing. When Art begins to lose his will to play professionally, Tashi enters him into a low-level championship to help him reconnect with his passion. Unbeknownst to Art, he is up against Patrick Zweig, his former best friend and Tashi’s ex-lover.

Emotions run high as the narrative flashes between their steamy love triangle of the past and the tension-rich environment of the present tournament. The romantic sports drama is highlighted by its complex characters, stylish cinematography, and a seemingly grounded yet sensational narrative. Experiencing the emotional intensity of the characters matching the contagious energy of the game, the film’s storyline generates questions regarding its real-world inspirations.

Challengers Explores a Tennis-Themed Love Triangle

The screenplay of ‘Challengers’ is written by Justin Kuritzkes and has been beautifully brought to life under Luca Guadagnino, with powerful performances from its cast, including Zendaya. While the story is fictional, it may seem all too real at times owing to its exhilarating depiction of tennis matches, interwoven with complex interpersonal stories and rivalries. When Justin Kuritzkes began writing the screenplay for ‘Challengers,’ he sat down with a vision of creating an experience that would be as thrilling and entertaining as watching a tennis match or even better. His plan to achieve this involved immersing the audience in exactly what was at stake on an emotional level for all the characters.

This included the coaches, as well as the players, whose trains of thought are made known to us, driving the scenes with high stakes and the intensity of the sport itself. The idea for the story first came to Justin Kuritzkes while he was watching the US Open (tennis) in 2018. The writer did not have any prior interest in professional sports such as tennis. As he observed the match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, the umpire officially warned Williams, accusing her of receiving coaching from the sidelines, something she vehemently denied.

However, the idea of someone sitting on a player’s side of the court and covertly coaching them during a high-intensity match struck Kuritzkes as very cinematic. Professional tennis players often face immense pressure to perform from external sources such as fans and sponsors as well as internal pressures driven by personal ambition and expectations. The film captures a number of these factors as it depicts Art’s existential crisis and adds to his pressures with a match against his former best friend, with whom he shares a layered past.

“You’re all alone on your side of the court, and there is only one other person who cares about what happens to you as you do, but you can’t talk to them,” explained Kuritzkes in an interview. “How would you communicate the tension of that situation using film? And from there, I was doing research, but really, I was becoming kind of a big Tennis fan and started watching every match I could get my hands on.” The relationship between Tashi and Art mirrors the complex dynamics often found between coaches and players in professional tennis. Coaches not only provide technical guidance but also emotional support and motivation, as seen in the film.

When asked what message he wished to convey through the story, writer Justin Kuritzkes said, “Honestly, I just hope that watching the movie is as exciting and unpredictable as watching a great tennis match. Thats honestly all i want, and what people take from it is up to them.” Just as in real-life tennis, ‘Challengers’ explores the impact of past relationships and rivalries on present-day competition. The tension between Art, Tashi, and Patrick Zweig adds layers of drama to the storyline, echoing the perpetuating rivalries witnessed on the tennis court, which can often drive players to greater heights.

There have been real-world incidents and movies made on tennis, which are reflected in some of the themes of ‘Challengers.’ ‘Battle of the Sexes’ chronicles the real story of Billie Jean King, who rose against unequal pay for women’s tennis players compared to men’s despite having the same ticket sales. The conflict manifested itself in a showdown between middle-aged former Men’s Tennis no.1, Bobby Riggs, and then Women’s Tennis no.1, Billie Jean King. The film’s story and its real-life counterpart feature an intense competition with many emotions and history behind it, similar to ‘Challengers.’

‘Challengers’ is a compelling tennis drama that adds to its narrative with a love triangle while capturing the essence of the sport in its sequences. Screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes found cinematic potential in the tension of coaching during high-stakes matches, sparked by an actual incident involving Serena Williams during the 2018 US Open. Immersing us in the emotional stakes for both players and coaches, Kuritzkes aimed to create a film as thrilling and unpredictable as a live tennis match. Through stylish cinematography and nuanced performances, ‘Challengers’ delves into the complexities of interpersonal dynamics within the tennis world, presenting a wonderful concoction of romance, passion, flaring emotions, and tennis.

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