Challengers: a Story about Love and Tennis

by George Awkard ’24

Challengers, directed by Luca Guadagnino, features a love triangle through the lens of
tennis. Zendaya plays Tashi Dun can, a fierce and spunky player turned coach for her husband Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), a more reserved and determined tennis player who’s gone pro. Josh O’Connor plays Patrick Zweig, an outgoing and driven tennis player without fame or recognition. The movie follows the three through their lives, sharing a common denominator, tennis.

Throughout Challengers, Art and Patrick are best friends until they meet Tashi, who divides them. The relationship between the three is masterfully portrayed by the actors, especially Faist, who perfectly depicts the falling out between himself and Patrick, and the resentment he held towards Tashi for pushing him so hard.

The pacing in the movie is interesting as it cuts back and forth between the past and present, which is the best way to tell this story and the most creative because the storyline reflects how the final tennis match goes. In the past, Art and Patrick are two tennis-playing best friends who meet Tashi at a party and continuously compete for her affection, while trying to get better at tennis. In the present, Art and Tashi are married and Tashi, after a career-ending injury, agrees to coach him. Patrick is now scraping by and hopes a challenger event can help him financially, and Art also enters the tournament to build his confidence.

Zendaya’s acting is the best it’s ever been. She’s able to multitask and play two distinct roles in one. As a young tennis player when she injured her knee and couldn’t play tennis anymore, it felt like watching real sports. She also executed the coach-wife hybrid role well through her aloof body language and by responding to Art’s meaningful “I love you” with a cold “I know.”

Although the love triangle dynamic is overdone in movies and shows, it is carefully and believably constructed in Challengers. Tashi has both guys wrapped around her finger and is the mastermind in manipulating both Art and Patrick and changing the way they feel about each other.  The final scene is meaningfully powerful, but to tell anymore would spoil the film’s ending. It’s enough to say that Challengers wins–point, set, match.

Grade: A-