Does Zendaya Play Tennis in Real Life? Did She Learn it For Challengers?

Embodying Tashi Duncan, a master tennis player in the making, Zendaya helms the Luca Guadagnino directorial, ‘Challengers,’ alongside her co-stars Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor. The film charts the story of promising young players, Tashi, Art Donaldson, and Patrick Zweig, who are embroiled in the middle of a complicated love triangle— where their competitive tennis careers become a fourth participant. Thus, a decade’s worth of tension, betrayal, and relationships come crashing down in one pivotal tennis match between Art and Patrick, with Tashi as the former’s coach.

The film employs tennis as the symbolic center to explore deeper, more convoluted emotions that persist within the trio. As such, the actual sport becomes an instrumental tool within the film, with Tashi, Art, and Patrick’s relationships with tennis defining their respective characters. Consequently, after witnessing Zendaya’s compelling performance as Tashi Duncan, viewers must wonder if the actress shares her character’s skills on the tennis court.

Zendaya Trained Extensively For Her Tennis Prodigy Role

Prior to her involvement in ‘Challengers,’ in which Zendaya occupies the center stage as the producer and one of the main leads, the actress had no experience with the sport of tennis. However, her character, Tashi Duncan, remains defined through her connection with it, rendering her on-court performance an extension of the character’s personhood. For the same reason, Zendaya found herself on a long road of training to learn all the skills essential to personifying Tashi’s character.

Consequently, Brad Gilbert and his wife, Kim, came on board as tennis consultants to coach Zendaya and her co-stars, Faist and O’Connor, in the sport. Gilbert is a former tennis player turned coach himself, sporting a worldwide No. 4 career-high singles ranking in 1990. From college tennis to professional and eventually the Olympics, the man has an extensive career in the sport. Therefore, he made for the perfect fit to coach the ‘Challengers’ stars for their respective roles.

In preparation for the role, Gilbert took Zendaya to college matches to submerge her into the dynamics between two players on the court. On the other hand, Kim Gilbert shared multiple videos of matches with the actress to research to get her in the headspace of a coach. By doing so, the Gilberts equipped her with tools to navigate Tashi’s story as both the player and the coach. For her part, Zendaya threw herself entirely into the world of tennis to understand every facet of the sport.

As for the physical aspect of her training, Zendaya underwent a three-month-long training session with a five-day-week schedule for her training under Gilbert’s expertise. Six weeks of this time were spent as a preparation period in Los Angeles and another six months in Boston during filming. Zendaya discussed the nature of her training in a conversation with Variety, where she divulged, “It felt like summer camp.”

“We’d wake up—Mike [Faist], Josh [O’Connor], and myself on these three courts side-by-side—and we’d just practice for however many hours, and then we’d go and work out, and then we’d have a break, and we’d come back, and the second half of the day was rehearsal,” Zendaya added. Thus, the actress’ dedication to learning the intricacies of the sport remains evident. Her pre-existing background in dancing further helped strengthen her understanding of a tennis player’s physicality as it allowed her to mimic their movements proficiently. Therefore, even though the film employs a body double for Zendaya, the actress’ exhaustive training helps infuse authenticity into her own movements when she graces the screen as Tashi Duncan.

“I might not actually be the most perfect tennis player, and the ball might not go where I need it to go, but I don’t really have to worry about the ball anyway,” said Zendaya. “We can put the ball in later. It became about fitting the movement and trying to match that as much as possible.” Ultimately, despite lacking a history in tennis before filming, Zendaya honed her skills and learned the sport along the way.

Read More: Is Zendaya’s Challengers Based on a True Story?