Zendaya serves up a winner

Will Ferris
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Challengers (15, 131 minutes)

Tennis is a saucy sport. Listen to a match with your eyes closed and it just makes sense. But one must wonder what inspired a director like Luca Guadagnino to make a sports film. We saw what he can do with German witches, cannibals and even a peach. How would he get on here?

Very well actually. Challengers is sharp, racy and positively sublime in every way.

Doubles partners Patrick (Josh O’ Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) go from competing in the US Open as juniors to becoming enemies on the court and in the public eye. Who should create such a rift but maverick champion and professional ballbuster Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) who was forced into early retirement due to injury.

A petty battle for Tashi’s heart across the years fuels a brutal rivalry between the two men. In marriage, Art’s reluctance to take risks in his career, only playing against inferior opponents, rattles Tashi and she plays puppet master for a grand showdown between her two suitors.

Every conversation here is its own tennis match and Zendaya always serves. This is her game. She sets the rules, pulls the strings and sits back to watch.

The The men may be swinging their rackets for the competition, but their misguided attempts to win Tashi’s heart is remarkable considering their own, suppressed feelings for one another.

All the while, as her players sweat for her affection whilst pushing back obvious, yet undisclosed romantic tendencies between themselves, you wonder whether Tashi is truly looking to boost their careers or just having a laugh at how far she can push them.

She’s a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. O’Connor and Faist’s performances as Patrick and Art simply can’t equal her majesty. She is the object of their desires and it’s not hard to see why. Tashi is the cool girl at school that everyone wanted to date and to whom they were brutally rejected, one by one.

She knows how to play the game and always wins. A thoroughly brilliant character created by Guadagnino and writer Justin Kuritzkes.

The director shows us that tennis is far more than a game of balls or a battle of wits. It’s about raw emotion breaking through steel bravado. No one wants to be a loser.

Slick, beautifully shot and grounded by the chemistry of a top-tier cast,

Challengers is one of those films that, in the years to come, will be defined as a cult classic.

RATING: 9/10

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