Close this search box.

“Challengers” Crowns Zendaya the Ultimate Femme Fatale in this Tennis Love Triangle for the Books

Lust, love, and tennis collide in a heated love triangle between tennis pro champions.
June 2, 2024
11:34 am
Zendaya - Challengers
Zendaya - Challengers

Tennis is an intricate and intimate sport consisting of two players in a “relationship.” Far from just “hitting the ball with a racket,” the sport requires dedication, stealth, a little bit of manipulation, and passion. Passion is what drives the lead characters in “Challengers” to make questionable decisions.


Interestingly, the rave and hype surrounding this romantic sports-drama has been enormous, largely thanks to the star power of Zendaya, who plays the lead role of the beautiful yet manipulative tennis protege Tashi Donaldson (nee Duncan). Her fashion game and statement pieces on the press tour for the film have gotten more fanfare than her performance as Tashi which is a shame because she delivered one of her best acting performances to date. That will be talked about later in the review, but as it is with films that are more glorified than advertised, let’s see if “Challengers” is really worth the hype.


“Challengers” centers around tennis player Tashi Donaldson (Zendaya) and her transition from protege to coach. After an injury forces her to retire from the game she loves the most, she settles for coaching her husband, Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). He wins titles and trophies and is arguably one of the top tennis players in the world till he encounters a losing streak that forces him to consider early retirement.


To dissuade him from this thought, and lift his spirits, Tashi enrolls Art in a Challenger event in New York. There, he encounters pro tennis player Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), who also happens to be his former best friend. Things get heated between the two of them, and as the past mixes with the present, it is clear to see why−Tashi. Her on-again-off-again relationship with Art and Patrick (till she settled for Art) cost them their friendship. Love triangles rarely end well, and as the plot thickens, one truth is glaring: Tashi never loved any of them; her only love is, and forever will be, tennis.



“Challengers” succeeds in its ability to be a simple, yet complicated plot thanks to the brilliant directing of Luca Guadagnino. His directing style, as seen in films like “Call Me by Your Name,” “Bones and All,” and now “Challengers” is, for lack of a better term, turning a simple plot into a theatrical performance. Romance films are a dime a dozen but rarely are they as interesting as Guadagnino’s. His unconventional and emotionally harrowing take on the romance genre is almost haunting, and “Challengers” is just that−haunting−but in a good way.


Also, sports dramas centered around tennis rarely have a romantic element to them, but “Challengers” stands out as being a pioneer in this genre mixture.


Another praiseworthy feature of “Challengers” is its seamless mixture of Tashi, Art, and Patrick’s past with their current future. From their initial meeting at a sports party in Tashi’s honor to their current predicament as rivals, Guadagnino’s directing stands out in his ability to weave through these timelines, informing audiences about the lives of the main characters. No one’s past or present reality outshined the other; Tashi, Art, and Patrick’s story is cohesively told and it’s indeed a beauty to watch.


Zendaya’s portrayal of Tashi Donaldson (nee Duncan) is arguably the highlight of “Challengers.” She’s beautiful, calculated, and a very talented coach. As the smartest of the trio, Tashi uses whatever means necessary to achieve her goals, even if it means manipulating the opposition with her body. She may be a distant wife, but it’s clear that her protege days have gotten her the success that she has reaped through her student and husband, Art. When her career failed, she built his and transformed him into a top-rated tennis player. That was her pathway to leading a wealthy lifestyle.


Zendaya pulls off Tashi exceptionally with her facial expressions, apt line delivery, and synergy with her male costars. She holds a certain charisma that not a lot of young actresses in Hollywood have. It’s no wonder she has two Primetime Emmys to her name!


Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor are no slackers as their portrayal of Art and Patrick respectively, best friends who lead completely different lives thanks to their fateful encounter with Tashi as teenagers, is no doubt commendable. Faist showcases his vulnerability through Art, the fickle, yet sweet pro tennis player controlled by his wife. One can’t help but feel sympathy for him because his dreams and aspirations are often overshadowed by Tashi’s dreams and aspirations for him.



Art’s polar opposite is Josh O’Connor’s Patrick, the annoying yet firm pro tennis player who lives his life like he has no responsibilities. He swaggers into Tashi and Art’s life like a hurricane, catching them off guard and keeping them on their toes. O’Connor is slick, savvy, and cheeky in his portrayal of Patrick. He also possesses a roguish charm that makes it easy to see why Tashi can’t resist him, despite being married to Art.


The film’s score, carefully curated by Academy Award winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, in collaboration with Boys Noize, draws attention to the jaw-dropping moments in the film and heightens the tension between the trio. No one can forget the passionate, upbeat music playing in the background as Tashi, Art, and Patrick engage in a menage-a-trois in a hotel room.


“Challengers” ends on a rather pleasant footing, with Art and Patrick reuniting on the court to Tashi’s approval. It’s hard to tell the lesson the film wants audiences to take in their back pocket, but “Challengers” is a fun watch and an educational piece for those who know little or nothing about tennis.


Release Date:  April 22, 2024

Runtime:  2 hours, 11 minutes, and 38 seconds

Streaming Service:  Cinematic Release

Director:  Luca Guadagnino

Cast:  Zendaya, Mike Faist, Josh O’Connor, and Darnell Appling

TNR Scorecard:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: TNR Content is protected !!









Alerts & Newsletters

© Rhythm Media Group LLC 2022