Tennis icon Serena Williams helped to inspire the premise of the acclaimed new sports drama Challengers.


The new film by Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino focuses on a love triangle between international tennis star Art (Mike Faist), his wife and coach Tashi (Zendaya), and Art's former best friend and Tashi's former lover, tennis player Patrick (Josh O'Connor).

The secrets and passions of the past come to the forefront when Art and Patrick end up scheduled to face off in a tennis tournament and former tennis player Tashi is left to watch from the sidelines.

Speaking to about what inspired his script for Challengers, screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes revealed that one tennis incident in particular sparked thoughts of a potential cinematic moment.

Kuritzkes recalled: "I was watching the US Open in 2018 and it was the final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. 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.

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"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."

Zendaya sits with a middle-parted bob and blue shirt-dress as Tashi Duncan in Challengers.
Zendaya as Tashi watching from the sidelines in Challengers. YouTube/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The screenwriter elaborated further on tapping into the emotions at play: "Yeah, because you're all alone on this court in this massive stadium, this high-stakes match. And there's one other person who cares as much about what happens to you as you do, and you can't speak to them.

"And I started to think, well, what if you guys had to talk about something really important? And what if it was beyond tennis? What if it was about something that was going on in your lives and you had to talk about it during the match? How would you do that?

"And so that was really the start of the movie for me."

Despite highlighting how the moment with Williams helped inspire the film, Justin Kuritzkes was quick to point out that none of the characters in the film had any particular real-life counterparts.

"I mean, the characters are completely fictional," he confirmed. "I'm obviously inspired by a lot of tennis players in terms of the stories about the tour, you know - like, 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.

"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."

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Challengers will arrive in UK cinemas on Friday 26th April 2024.


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