Is Challengers based on a true story?

Is Challengers based on a true story?

Challengers is a relentless, buzzing depiction of tennis amid a three-way relationship driven by ambition and manipulation — but is it based on a true story? Here’s what you need to know.

As one of the most anticipated movies of the year for sports lovers and Zendaya stans alike, Luca Guadagnino’s new drama is a fresh take on the stereotypical sports film.

Starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist, Challengers is a sweaty, scheming story of three champion tennis players who become entangled in each other in the best and worst ways possible. Tennis serves as the backdrop and driving force of this new movie, which has led some to believe that it could be based on truth.

In an era of award-winning biopics and true-to-life sports movies, audiences would be forgiven for assuming that Challengers is based on a real-life tale of tennis, manipulation, and sex. But is that the case? Here’s what you need to know.

Is Challengers based on a true story?

No, Challengers isn’t based on a true story — it’s based on a screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes, who was inspired to create the plot after watching a heated real-life tennis match.

Challengers is about Tashi Duncan, a tennis star on the rise who’s forced into coaching when her budding career is tragically cut short by an injury. She sets her champion husband Art up for a challengers tournament to help him win his confidence back, only for them to be shaken when they learn he’ll be competing against his former best friend (and her former boyfriend), Patrick.

Despite the story focusing on on-screen tennis stars, the characters are fictional, and aren’t based on any real-life counterparts. The game itself and the relationship between Tashi, Art, and Patrick is also the stuff of fiction.

However, there was one real-life tennis match that inspired (in the broadest sense) Kuritzkes to write the screenplay.

What tennis match inspired Challengers?

While researching the history of Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, Justin Kuritzkes came across a match that took place during the 2018 US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, which then inspired the plot of Challengers.

The match was particularly heated, and some controversial calls about code violations were made after Williams was accused of receiving coaching from the sidelines. The stakes were also incredibly cinematic, with Osaka being a 20-year-old underdog facing her tennis idol, Williams, who had just given birth a few months earlier.


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The match’s umpire, Carlos Ramos, called out a code violation after he saw Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, give her a thumbs up. It was thought that Williams and Mouratoglou were communicating with some sort of code, an accusation which Williams fought back against.

Later, Williams received another violation for smashing her racket. Then, another for “verbal abuse” after Williams demanded an apology from Ramos.

After several delays and arguments between Williams and the referee, Osaka won the match and, ultimately, the Women’s singles in the US Open. This got the cogs in Kuritzkes’ brain ticking away, and as such, Challengers was born.

“Watching Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in the finals together, there was a controversial call about Williams receiving coaching from the sidelines,” he said [via Empire]. “I had never heard of that, but it clicked with me as an intensely cinematic situation. I thought it would be an interesting place for two guys who hadn’t seen each other in a long time to meet again.”

Is Challengers based on a book?

No, unlike Luca Guadagnino’s previous two films — Call Me by Your Name and Bones and All — Challengers isn’t based on a book.

As above, Challengers was the invention of screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes.

If you’re thinking, “I’m almost certain I’ve seen a major novel about tennis go around,” then you’re probably thinking about Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The book was released in 2022, and is also about an all-star female tennis player who has to defend her career, but that’s completely unrelated to Challengers.

For more, check out our guides to the best movies of 2024 so far, as well as all the new movies to watch on streaming.

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