After Watching “Challengers”, I Tried Tennis for the First Time

PS Photography / Lauren Gordon

I’ve seen the trailers, indulged in the premiere looks and engaged in all of the tennis conversation around Luca Guadagnino’s new much-hyped film, “Challengers”. So I decided, it was finally time to put my skills (and fitness) to the test and try the sport out for myself, because if Zendaya can do it, so can I. Right?

Tennis is already a huge sport in the UK, and sees a bounce every summer after Wimbledon. The LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) last year announced that 2022 had seen a huge surge in the game, with the number of adults reporting they’d played tennis up by 43 percent and in 16 to 34-year-olds, that rate was 48 percent – more than any other age category. Will “Challengers” see that figure leap again this summer? The film certainly pushed me to the court.

I started out with the outfit, because looking the part is just as important as playing it. I matched Tashi Duncan’s white pleated performance skort, copped from the official Wimbledon store (to show I mean business, obviously). I was in full tennis gear, with my white t-shirt and skort, quite literally down the Wimbledon socks – Sporty Spice eat your heart out. I topped off my hairstyle with a white scrunchie, like Zendaya’s hair bow at the “Challengers” UK Premiere.

I headed to Virgin Active in Fulham, who are currently welcoming new and existing members following a significant investment across the club’s facilities, from a brand new Reformer Pilates class to a top of the range gym floor. Here, I met with tennis head coach David Harris, for a one-to-one session, covering the basics of the sport and gaining some tips and tricks for every beginner to be armed with, if they’re planning to do a Tashi Duncan transformation this summer.

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Although Tashi, Art and Patrick are my main driving forces for getting involved with tennis, the benefits are just as attractive as this threesome. “Tennis is one of those sports that can be very physically demanding, but also really good for your overall health. It’s nothing like your typical gym workout. It’s very intense, but also very tactical. It’s almost like a chess game, you want to outwit your opponent, and you want to have fun with it, all while getting fit at the same time. So I’d say it’s a very good sport for anyone, at any level, to pick up,” Harris tells PS UK.

So, here’s everything I learned and why I’m already looking forward to continuing my successful tennis career, I mean hobby. For context, my only previous experience with a tennis racket was using it as a pretend guitar, but I daren’t tell David that.

The Serve

Weirdly enough, getting a game of tennis started is the part I struggled with the most. David taught me how to serve, but throwing the ball up in the ideal spot for a banging starter swing proved to be more difficult than I thought as my hand-eye coordination failed me multiple times. But with my eye on the target and many practice tries, I finally nailed the serve.

The Stance

It turns out that all those Wii Sports tennis matches actually translate in the real world. If you’re familiar with the game, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I describe how your avatar opponent, bobs left and right before you take your serve. David encouraged me to start each swing in a similar stance, knees slightly bent, racket facing forward, and slightly bobbing side to side, so your body is ready to turn left or right as the ball comes your way. This turned out to be a dance of sorts and while dancing is definitely not my forte, the stance helped me get my serves on point.

The Swing

We started with the basics: the forehand and backhand swings, which you switch between depending on where the ball is headed. The forehand is held with one hand, while the backhand with two, which at first felt robotic and stiff. But after warming up and leaning into my tennis player mindset, I aced the backhand swing, with David even noting it was the better of the two for me, but that this was purely down to preference.

I also learned that while movement and direction can be impactful, the most important aspect in tennis is timing. Timing is everything in this sport. I saw that a well-timed strike resulted in a sharp, controlled shot.

At one point during our session, David picked up on an advanced move I was naturally making when hitting the ball, called a topspin. The nit-picky detail of this move is a science David doesn’t expect beginners to grasp, so I have to say I was proud to know I was already reaching some sort of professional level.

The Pose

Once I was able to hit the ball no matter the direction it came from, thanks to my new knowledge of back and forehand swings, David told me that no shot is complete without ‘the pose’, with it’s accompanying sound – you’ve probably heard the various grunts from the pros if you’ve ever watched a match. Tennis takes a lot of movement, so the pose can help things flow naturally and ensure you’re able to swiftly and smoothly get your next shot.

To do this, after a backhand serve, David directed me to swing the racket over my right shoulder to lightly touch my shoulder blade, and shouting ‘Yes!’ as self-confirmation of a good serve. Whether he was having me on or not, the exclamation to cement my successful hits actually felt good. Side note: I’m a natural poser so any opportunity to look good is a bonus.

So, with the basics covered, the outfit sorted and my stance better than any Wii Sports Avatar I’ve ever seen, I call on you Zendaya: fancy a match?

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Lauren Gordon is the editorial coordinator at PS UK, where she creates lifestyle and identity content. Lauren has a degree in journalism from University of the Arts London and previously worked as a showbiz and TV reporter at The Mirror US. Lauren specialises in pop culture, hair and beauty, focusing on trends, sharing in-depth tutorials, and highlighting hidden gems in the beauty industry.

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