'Challengers' was partially inspired by Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open.

Challengers Is Partially Based On A True Story Involving Serena Williams

There’s some truth to what Zendaya’s serving up.

Zendaya’s new movie is serving up more than just a steamy love triangle on the tennis court. If the adrenaline-pumping matches in Challengers feel all too real, it might be because the idea for the film came from an actual tennis match that stuck with writer Justin Kuritzkes. So, while the movie is mainly fictional, there is a bit of a true story that Challengers is based on.

In Challengers, Zendaya plays the former tennis superstar Tashi Duncan, who had to pivot from player to coach after a leg injury prematurely ended her promising career. She coaches her husband, Art (Mike Faist), as he prepares to face off against his old friend — and Tashi’s former flame — Patrick (Josh O’Connor). The torrid love affair is completely fictional, but Kuritzkes did reveal that a specific tennis rule he noticed in a Serena Williams game is what provided the germ of the idea for the movie.

“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 penalized for receiving coaching from the sidelines,” the writer told Radio Times. “And she got very upset and said that didn’t happen. But the ref still penalized 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.”

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The 2018 US Open ended with Naomi Osaka beating Williams in the finals to claim her first major title. In the years since, Williams has supported Osaka as her star continued to rise. Williams has since retired from tennis, playing her last professional match in 2022.

While Kuritzkes emphasized the Challengers character are completely fictional, he also shared that he drew a lot from another tennis pro’s life.

“Reading Andre Agassi’s book Open was a massive inspiration for the movie,” he said. “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.”