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Why Zendaya’s Challengers Reminds Serena Williams of Roger Federer

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Why Zendaya’s Challengers Reminds Serena Williams of Roger Federer

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Wimbledon Winners Party 2009, Serena Williams Roger Federer
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Serena Williams was reminded of another tennis icon — Roger Federer and his wife, Mirka — while watching Zendaya’s new film Challengers.

In a review of the movie for Vogue, which was published on Friday, April 26, Williams, 42, opened up about seeing the real world of competitive tennis reflected in the story of Zendaya’s character, Tashi, and the two men in her life, Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor).

“I recognized Art, too. A lot of male tennis players really rely on their wives and girlfriends,” Williams wrote of Art and Tashi’s duel marital and coach-player dynamic in the film. “Just look at someone like Roger Federer: he used to actually hit with his wife, Mirka, and they were like glue.”

Williams noted that players getting isolated is seen “so much” in men’s tennis, especially for those at the top of their game. She added, however, that even she was “codependent” with sister Venus Williams at the start of their careers.

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“If you’re on the top, no one speaks to you,” she said. “You’re alone so much that you end up being really dependent on your team and their opinions. … So it’s interesting that the movie was able to capture some of that experience.”

While Serena seemingly had empathy for O’Connor’s character — “I’ve seen guys like that before. … There are players who really struggle and sometimes end up living in their car,” she wrote — she was most grated by Tashi, whom she described as “mean, for lack of a better word.”

There were elements to the character, however, that Serena could understand. “It’s true that when you’re really competitive, you have to make tough decisions, including in your dating life,” she explained. “You have to find someone who really understands your mind.”

Figuring out priorities when it comes to personal life and career is something Serena is well acquainted with. After a storied career that included 23 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals, she officially retired from tennis in 2022 to spend more time with her husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their daughter, Olympia, now 6. (The pair have since welcomed their second daughter, Adira, who arrived in August 2023.)

“I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me,” Serena wrote in a Vogue essay explaining her decision. “But I’ve been reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else that I have to move on from playing tennis. Alexis, my husband, and I have hardly talked about it; it’s like a taboo topic. I can’t even have this conversation with my mom and dad. It’s like it’s not real until you say it out loud.”

Zendaya Aces Her Role in Tennis Love Triangle Film Challengers
Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

She continued, “Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” Williams continued. “I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”

Since stepping off the court, Williams has focused on other endeavors. In April, she broke into the world of cosmetics with Wyn Beauty — a makeup brand that promises to offer products that will allow athletes to serve face amid the most taxing conditions. She also launched her wellness brand, Will Perform, which sells recovery products like magnesium lotion, pain relief gel and more.

Federer, meanwhile, announced his own retirement from tennis just weeks after Serena. The 20-time Grand Slam winner decided to hang up his racquet after a series of injuries. He underwent two knee surgeries in 2020 and returned to tennis the following year, but withdrew from the Australian Open and French Open while he recovered. He underwent another knee surgery in August 2021 and subsequently withdrew from the U.S. Open.

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“As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries,” the athlete wrote in an emotional letter shared via Instagram in September 2022. “I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.”

He continued, “I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

In his announcement, Federer thanked Mirka, 46, and the couple’s four children for their support over the years. (The pair the knot in 2009 and are parents to two sets of twins: Myla and Charlene, 14, and Leo and Lenny, 9.)

“Seeing my family cheering me on from the stands is a feeling I will cherish forever,” he wrote.

Challengers is in theaters now.

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