MOVIES

How A Controversial Serena Williams Accusation Inspired Challengers’ Erotic Story

During the final between 23-time Grand Slam women’s singles winner Serena Williams and 20-year-old rising star Naomi Osaka, chair umpire Carlos Ramos issued a code violation against Williams after apparently observing her coach, Patrick Mourataglou, sending a signal to Williams with his hands — an action that’s not allowed during the game. Williams vehemently contested the call, but still ended up losing in straight sets to Osaka in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.

As “Challengers” screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes watched this, an idea sparked in his mind. “Immediately this struck me as this intensely cinematic situation where you’re all alone on your side of the court, and there’s this one other person in this massive tennis stadium who cares as much about what happens to you as you do,” he explained. “But you can’t talk to them.”

Seeing the drama unfold between Williams, Ramos, Osaka, and Mourataglou got Kuritzkes thinking about how an even more personal conflict might end up playing out on the court. The seething competitive, emotional, and erotic tension between tennis professionals Tashi, Art, and Patrick drives the narrative of “Challengers,” which flashes back and forth in time from the trio’s early days as high school players to 2019, 13 years later, when Art and Patrick — with Tashi subtly manipulating both — face off at a regional Challenger match that is loaded with beneath-the-surface implications for all three characters.

“For whatever reason, it just clicked in my mind, well, what if you really needed to talk about something?” Kuritzkes said. “And what if it was something beyond tennis? … what if it involved the person on the other side of the net? How would you have that conversation?”

“Challengers” opens in theaters this Friday (April 26).

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