‘Challengers’ movie: all you need to know – and is it actually worth watching?

The cast of Challengers attended the Monte Carlo Masters
Mike Faist, Zendaya, and Josh O'Connor star in Challengers

It is the film that has everyone in the tennis world talking.

With a blockbuster cast featuring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist – and the acclaimed Luca Guadagnino directing – hopes were high for Challengers when the film was first announced.

With a planned release last year halted, the film has finally hit UK and US cinemas, being released on April 26th.

The UK premiere was held in Leicester Square last Wednesday (April 10th) and Tennis365 was lucky enough to attend.

Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about the film – and whether it is actually worth your time.


Challengers centres around August 2019, when Art Donaldson (Faist) and Patrick Zweig (O’Connor) face off in the New Rochelle Challenger final, weeks before the US Open.

Donaldson, a six-time major winner, is looking to refind form ahead of Flushing Meadows – the one Slam he is yet to win – while Challenger stalwart Zweig hopes to boost his chances of reaching the main draw.

Unbeknown to the crowd watching on, across the past half-decade there has been a complex love triangle involving the two former friends and Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) – a former junior star who is now Art’s wife, coach, and career manager.

Across two hours, we see how their relationships grow, change, and fall apart over the years as tensions on and off the court rise and fall.

Tennis terminology: ace or double fault?

As someone much more of a tennis fan than an avid film buff, one of my main hesitations around Challengers was how accurate – or inaccurate – some of the tennis references and terminology would be.

But, while there are one or two slight mistakes, I was pleasantly surprised by how factually based the storyline was.

Though the ‘Challenger’ event at New Rochelle is fictional, various real-life tournaments are mentioned – notably the US Open, and the other three Grand Slams.

The story also takes in action at the Atlanta Open and the Cincinnati Masters – where Art and Tashi visit the iconic Applebee’s – as well as taking a look at the collegiate system.

At one point, Tashi is also seen visiting the ATP website to scout Art’s next opponent, while the film also highlights the huge financial gulf between the very top of the game, and the Challenger Tour.

There are also cameos from Chris Fowler and Mary Joe Fernandez, while Andy Murray, John Isner, and Mardy Fish are referenced at points.

There are a few muddled-up wordings involving code violations, warnings, and penalties – and New Rochelle probably comes too late for Patrick to fulfil his dreams of securing automatic US Open entry.

But in general, the level of detail is impressive and clearly well-researched.

Read More: Tennis films – some good and some bad – to watch: Featuring Wimbledon, Borg vs McEnroe, King Richard

Action scenes: winner or unforced error?

The biggest question when making any tennis film – or any sports film – is probably: how do you make the action look convincing?

It is a challenge that various tennis films, such as King Richard or Battle of the Sexes, have faced in recent years, with a range of success across tennis film history.

This was another detail of the film I was incredibly interested to look at, especially with Zendaya having worked with Brad Gilbert to prepare for her tennis scenes.

And this was another hugely pleasant surprise; the action scenes involving all three main stars were impressive.

The tennis on display looked much more realistic than in similar movies, and it is not even as if they intentionally tried to make it easier.

There are extended scenes where Faist and O’Connor’s characters rally back and forth, and while some special effects must have been at play, such scenes look as realistic and as convincing as possible; admire Art Donaldson’s one-handed backhand in all its glory!

Is it any good?

You can probably tell I was impressed with how tennis was incorporated into a rom-com/love triangle-like story – but is the film any good in itself?

The answer, quite simply, is: yes.

Challengers perfectly finds the balance between being incredibly funny but also incredibly tense, and full credit must go to scriptwriter Justin Kuritzkes for developing such a layered script.

The three leading performances from Faist, O’Connor, and Zendaya are all fantastic, while Guadagnino shows why he is one of the most acclaimed directors of his generation, helming the film brilliantly.

Will it go down as the greatest film of all time? Maybe not.

But it’s huge fun in every way, and myself – and seemingly everyone at Wednesday’s premiere – left the theatre thoroughly entertained.

Get your popcorn on standby – Challengers is a film to be excited about.

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