Top tennis coach opens up about coaching Zendaya for ‘Challengers’ role

Zendaya Brad Gilbert
Brad Gilbert helped Zendaya and the rest of the cast of 'Challengers' prepare for the film

You can’t make a good film about tennis without making the tennis look good.

That was the challenge facing the cast and crew of Challengers ahead of filming, with none of the main cast – consisting of Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor – exactly WTA or ATP-standard players.

But the tennis action in the film looks better than many expected, and that is because director Luca Guadagnino enlisted the services of legendary tennis coach Brad Gilbert to help the cast prepare for their starring roles.

Currently coaching US Open champion and world No 3 Coco Gauff, Gilbert has also guided the likes of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick to Grand Slam success, making him the perfect man for Zendaya and co to work with for the film.

And, speaking at the LA premiere of the film, Gilbert – who is not with Gauff in Stuttgart this week – revealed that he had recognised many similarities between actors and tennis players.

“It was a great learning experience,” he said.

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“All three of them have good skills. Mike was the only one who had a little bit of a tennis background, he played in high school. Zendaya has a lot of athleticism in dancing.

“Josh, he had swam, he had played soccer, rugby. All of them had their own different characteristics of athleticism, but none of them were a prolific tennis player.

“Actors have a lot of the same DNA as tennis players – a lot of focus, a lot of determination, to really turn what they’re doing into something on screen. They worked incredibly hard and it was a great pleasure to work with all three of them.”

Tennis and acting are both known for long and arduous hours, something that was no different on the film set.

With time on set in Boston limited, Gilbert revealed that he was with the cast from the very early hours to get them ready before filming.

“It was a short period of time I spent [in Boston], more time with Zendaya in LA before we started.

“Like with acting a lot of the time, you have a short period of time to become the character, we had a short period of time but they put in the hard yards to make themselves the best they could be for this film.

“We would train early in Boston. We would do a couple of hours every day and then a couple of hours in the gym, they had long days – a lot of the time in Boston we were in the car by 6 am.”

Gilbert was not working with Gauff when he was on the set of Challengers, with their partnership only beginning last summer – around a year after filming wrapped.

But Gauff revealed after her opening match that she had spoken to her coach about his time on set – and had even been in touch with Zendaya.

Gauff said: “He [Gilbert] said that she picked it up well. It’s hard to replicate tennis, but one thing he did say, she is a hard worker and she was trying as hard as she could to make it as perfect as she could and that she’s a super-sweet girl.

“That’s how I actually got the flowers from her. He’s the one who gave her my address. I loved all the Challengers fashion looks.

“I thought that was really cool to see tennis in that way, because I felt for a tennis player for us, a lot of us wouldn’t want to do that, but she made it look like high fashion and chic.

“I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m excited. I think people shouldn’t go into the movie critiquing the tennis. I think really that’s just not what the story is about.”

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