Zendaya takes on the challenge of playing a tennis pro in 'Challengers,' a film filled with ambition, power, and intense tennis action.

Find Out How Zendaya Trained for Her Role in Challengers Movie

Zendaya has taken on physically demanding roles before, such as her performances in the Spider-Man movies and her upcoming roles in the two Dune films. However, in Challengers, her latest movie set to release on April 26, she faces a new challenge: playing a tennis pro. In the film, Zendaya portrays Tashi, a tennis ace who enters her husband Art (played by Mike Faist) in a tournament called the Challenger, after a knee injury ends her career. The movie revolves around themes of ambition, power, jealousy, and sex, and many significant scenes take place on the tennis court. Therefore, Zendaya underwent intensive tennis training to bring her character to life.

The actor started training with tennis pro-Brad Gilbert three months before filming. Gilbert is a well-known name in the tennis world, having been ranked the fourth-best player in the world before transitioning into coaching some of the best players in the game, such as Andre Agassi, Andy Murray, and Coco Gauff.

Zendaya’s preparation for the role of Tashi involved studying the game of tennis by watching tapes of players with similar builds to hers. From these tapes, Zendaya observed specific quirks that she either wanted or did not want to incorporate into her character. She and Gilbert also attended two live college matches together, and despite the length of the matches, Zendaya was committed to staying until the end.

When it was time to move from observation to drills, Zendaya trained for 12 hours a day, completing tennis sessions in the morning, a two-hour gym workout, and then acting in the afternoon. Gilbert described the training as “grinding” similar to what a tennis player would have to do to prepare for a big tournament.

Despite the intensity of the training, the actors maintained high spirits and a sense of camaraderie throughout, which helped them stay motivated. At one point, they even passed out pins with a photo of a mulleted Gilbert in his heyday as a player as an homage to their coach.

Gilbert also choreographed the tennis matches in the movie, adjusting as necessary based on feedback from director Luca Guadagnino. The actors spent four weeks perfecting these sequences, with each actor having a personal coach to maximize their tennis sessions.

The preparation, training, and choreography were all crucial to allow Zendaya to fully transform into Tashi. According to Gilbert, scripting the points and doing it without the ball, learning to play the point in full, and understanding what each point meant were all helpful in their training.

The intense training that Zendaya, Faist, and O’Connor completed did not go to waste, as “Challengers” is a tennis-heavy movie that features a lot of tennis. The movie alternates between the Challenger tournament and Tashi’s, Art’s, and Patrick’s encounters years before. Present-day Tashi and Art run into Patrick at the Challenger and discover that he has also signed up to compete.

Gilbert said, “Early on, I realized that the Challengers is the narrator of the movie; it tells the story of how we got to this point and how we develop each one of these characters, their strengths, and their flaws. So it’s not your standard match, but I feel like we showed more tennis than maybe any tennis movie has ever shown before.”


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