Luca Guadagnino's tennis drama Challengers is upon us, telling the story of a complicated love triangle between three tennis players in a non-linear narrative.


Zendaya stars as Tashi, a tennis player turned coach who, having become increasingly frustrated by her husband Art's (West Side Story's Mike Faist) losing streak, enters him into a Challenger event.

However, when Art discovers that his former best friend and Tashi’s ex boyfriend Patrick (The Crown's Josh O’Connor) is competing, old tensions and rivalries soon bubble to the surface.

So, are the three tennis players based on real people? Read on for everything you need to know about whether Challengers is based on a true story.

Is Challengers based on a true story?

C_05746_R2 Mike Faist stars as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS An Amazon MGM Studios film Photo credit: Niko Tavernise © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Mike Faist stars as Art and Josh O’Connor as Patrick in director Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers.

No, the film is not based specifically on a true story, although screenwriter Justin Kuristzkes revealed during an exclusive interview with that the germ of the idea came when he was watching a high-profile real tennis match.

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"I was watching the US Open in 2018 and it was the final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams," he said. "And there was this really controversial call towards the end of the match where Serena Williams was penalised for receiving coaching from the sidelines.

"And she got very upset and said that didn't happen. But the ref still penalised her. And I had never heard of that rule – that you're not allowed to speak with your coach during the match. And immediately it struck me as really cinematic."

He added that although the characters are "completely fictional", he was inspired by a lot of real tennis players and stories he'd heard about the tour.

"For example, reading Andre Agassi's book Open was a massive inspiration for the movie, because it's so hyper-specific about the life of an athlete and the feeling of being at the top of your game, and falling out of love with the sport and still having to do it," he said.

"And I think that was really, that felt really fresh to me. I had never heard somebody describe a life in sports like that. So stuff like that was very inspiring.”

Is Tashi Duncan in Challengers based on a real person?

No, but, as detailed above, real-life tennis players did serve as inspiration for Kuristzkes.

Talking about the specific inspiration for Znedaya’s character Tashi, Kuristzkes said it came to him when he was watching the 2019 Wimbledon finals between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, where he observed Roger’s wife, Mirka Federer.

"She looked so stressed out, every point," Kuritzkes told GQ. "I was watching her and just thinking, 'Why are you so stressed out? You guys have all the money in the world. You've won 20 grand slams. What's so stressful to you? It has to be something else.'"

He delved further into Mirka's story and learned she was a tennis player before injury cut her career short.

"She kind of became [Federer's] manager, and sort of managed his life," he added. "He credits her a lot for [his success]."

Like Mirka, we learn in Challengers that Tashi was a professional tennis player before an injury derailed her career.

Although Zendaya's character is not based on an actual real-life figure, she certainly put the work in to ensure authenticity with regards to her tennis skills.

The Dune star reportedly trained for three months with former tennis pro Brad Gilbert, who also served as a consultant on the film, before taking on the role, according to Variety.

“We edited the movie and we almost actually don't use any of her double. She's so good," Guadagnino told the publication of Zendaya.

Challengers is in UK cinemas now.


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