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Why Challengers Has A Perfect Ending – Explained

Mike Faist as art plays tennis, seen from above, and Zendaya shouts as Tashi watching him, in the film Challengers, whose perfect ending is explained in this article

Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers has our pulse racing with a perfect ending. Here’s why its conclusion solidifies the film’s heart, explained!

Challengers, Luca Guadagnino’s newest sexy sports saga, has been on the top of every “2024’s Most Anticipated Film” list. With a star-studded cast of mesmerizing young actors, a soundtrack that has gone viral before the film was even released and a press tour that will go down in fashion history, it is an understatement to say Challengers has become a phenomenon

When it comes down to brass tax, the film doesn’t just deliver on its promise; it far exceeds expectations. Posed as a gritty sports drama, Challengers is a film about identity at its very core. Its trio of lead characters find their identity, community and worth within the world of tennis and everything that happens in their life is a result of their sport. For athletes, their value is determined by their results, their ability to win, and in Challengers these fictional athletes are no different. The ending of the film plays heavily into this idea that the winner is whoever shows up and is the better athlete that day. The final rally has every audience member’s heart racing, and as explained below, the film concludes with the most perfect ending for all three athletes. Here’s why!

The Premise and Ending of Challengers Explained

Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor drink beers wearing casual clothes at a party, looking at each other and smiling, in the film Challengers, whose perfect ending is explained in this article
Why Challengers Has A Perfect Ending: Explained – Mike Faist is Art and Josh O’Connor is Patrick in Challengers (Niko Tavernise, © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Challengers is a story following the tennis match between former best friends and current arch-rivals Art Donaldson (Mike Faist, of West Side Story) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor, of La Chimera). The two men are competing in a challengers tournament in the suburbs outside of New York City in what to the naked eye seems like a low-stakes tournament finale. However, the history between these two men runs deeper and directly involves Art’s coach and wife Tashi Duncan (Zendaya, of Dune 2).

Art and Patrick grew up playing tennis together, training at the same private sports academy, and going on to compete in the Junior US Open. Here is where the duo meets the illustrious Tashi. Tashi is the name in tennis. She is the most prominent athlete the sport has seen with an undoubtedly bright future on the horizon. Art, Patrick and Tashi meet after Tashi’s victory in the Open and from the moment they collide, the two men vie for her attention. After their initial meeting, the three become permanently intertwined in their professional and personal lives.  

In her first season at Standford, Tashi sustains a career-ending injury and Art and Patrick’s friendship is irrevocably damaged after they compete for Tashi’s heart. Thirteen years later, in present day, Art has become one of the most prominent names in tennis with Tashi by his side as his coach and wife. However, with age, Art has lost his edge, and in order to raise his spirits, Tashi enters him into a small challengers tournament. What she doesn’t know is that Patrick, who has become estranged after all these years, is a contender in this very same competition. Art and Patrick emerge as the two finalists in the tournament and the entire film takes place over the course of their match as it flashes back to the past to dissect the trio’s complicated and nuanced past. 

Fair warning, full spoilers lie ahead. At the end of the film, after the audience has been shown the full extent of the history between these three individuals, the match between Art and Patrick comes down to a tie-breaker. While Art initially had the advantage, he purposely throws the final set between the two of them when Patrick signals to him that he and Tashi have slept together using a signal they established earlier on in the film to say that he had slept with Tashi thirteen years ago. 

When they were young, Art would only beat Patrick if Patrick had made a mistake. They had always known Patrick was the stronger player out of the two of them, and over the course of events throughout the film and the years that have passed, the question had always remained; can Art finally beat Patrick? Art throws the final set to send them into a tie-breaker as a way of putting it all on the line and finding out the answer to this question all these years later. No more bullshit and no more secrets, the playing field is finally even. 

The final rally of the film is a true nail-biter, as it plays out we see Art and Patrick moving up the court towards the net, their hits becoming shorter and quicker. Tashi moves to the edge of her seat. The men are trying to anticipate one another’s movements. Patrick hits the ball high and Art leaps up, completely towering over Patrick, eclipsing him, and delivers his final swing, landing with a crash into Patrick’s arms. The two men look at each other, breaking the trance the rally had them in and, for the first time in thirteen years, recognize one another as the boy they grew up playing tennis with and smile. Tashi stands to her feet, screaming “COME ON!”, her frustrated game face melting into a smile.

What Does the Challengers Ending Mean? And Who Won? 

Josh O'Connor, as Patrick, wears a black tank top and smiles at someone during a tennis match in the film Challengers, whose perfect ending is explained in this article
Why Challengers Has A Perfect Ending: Explained – Josh O’Connor is Patrick in Challengers (Niko Tavernise, © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

The film never explicitly shows the clear result of Art’s final swing or the ruling on who won, but this directorial decision emphasizes the significance of this game and that winning doesn’t solve everything when this much is at stake. I do not for a moment believe the end message of this film is that everyone is a winner as long as they are having fun. I feel confident in saying the three lead characters would agree with this sentiment. The ambiguous ending is impactful because it is able to decenter winning in a way that still underscores how important this sport is to Tashi, Patrick and Art and what this match means to them.

In this final rally, the film finally stays in the present moment. Throughout the rest of the match, the characters are playing out the last thirteen years of their shared history with every point, leading us to the final deciding factor of who is the better player in the rematch Art and Patrick have desperately been craving. With the last point of the tie-breaker, all that matters is what is happening on the court. The weight of who wins, the hurt all three of them have caused each other and the politics of the tennis world have all faded. It’s once again two people doing what they love most in the world, too caught up in the moment to think about anything else. For once, after all these years and all the damage their actions have caused, Art and Patrick are back to being kids playing the game they love most in the world. 

In Tashi’s final line, we see she has gotten her source of joy back that she hasn’t had since she played. At the beginning of the film, when we first see Tashi take the court, she plays with an ease, a grace and a knowledge that no matter who she faces no one wants to win more than she does. After her game-winning hit in the Junior US Open match, she screams “COME ON!”, her words sounding like a war cry. Art points this out to her when they officially meet later that evening, desperate to know what caused that visceral reaction. Tashi says she doesn’t know, but her scream was an expression of joy and victory that was primal; it came from her very core. 

In the years in which she has not been able to play, unable to recover from her injury, tennis has turned from the love of her life to her singular obsession. She watches her husband’s career, literally from the sidelines, and plots how to get him where he needs to be all the while knowing how different life would be if she was able to take his place. Without tennis, Tashi is lost. Coaching Art has given her a way back into the game but has not ignited her soul with the same passion she held for tennis before. Her zest for life has been permanently dulled since her career ended. 

Why the Ending of Challengers is Perfect

Zendaya stands up shouting at a tennis match in a crowd, wearing a smart blue shirt, in the film Challengers, whose perfect ending is explained in this article
Why Challengers Has A Perfect Ending: Explained – Zendaya shouts as Tashi in a still from the film (Niko Tavernise, © 2024 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

There is a sense throughout the film that ever since her injury, Tashi has looked at tennis from an analytic standpoint. She carefully watches every match, painstakingly obsessing over every movement of each player. She uses her husband’s career to get closer to the sport and love that has permanently turned away from her. However, in the moments of the final showdown between Art and Patrick, her strategic analysis and all circumstance melts away. She is now able, for the first time since she has played, to see the game in the eyes of a player and not as a stepping stone to a higher title or tournament. The stakes of this match-up have brought her back to the present and in this final rally, as the play begins to intensify, all the troubles of her past fade. There is no her and Art, no her and Patrick, no injury, no career halt, there isn’t even a Tashi. There is just tennis. 

The film’s ending exemplifies the premise that all is fair in tennis and who wins is determined by who shows up and is the better player that day. At the beginning of the movie, Tashi describes tennis as a relationship between two players that has the ability to take those two players to a place far from everyone else as they battle to determine a winner. 

It is significant that when Art comes down from his game-winning blow, earning the point as the ball hits the ground before he crashes into Patrick at the net, Patrick meets him with open arms. While Patrick and Art’s friendship has been broken beyond repair in their lustful fight to win Tashi’s heart, we see throughout the film that Patrick still genuinely loves them both. He doesn’t tell Art that he slept with Tashi as a mind trick, but rather as a way of getting everything out in the open and for once letting them play with no secrets between them. 

Finally, nothing bars the two men from having a shot at a fair game. No matter what they’ve accomplished in their individual careers, they are both competing at this tournament and have earned their way into the finals. They have both gotten a chance to shoot their shot with Tashi and tell her how they really truly feel about her. There is no more competition that lies beyond the court, no advantages one holds over the other any longer. While Patrick wants to be able to make good on his promise to Tashi to let Art win because he does love and miss her, he needs Art to have a fair shot at proving he can beat him on his merit, not Patrick’s mistakes. 

When the two men meet in their embrace, they have a moment of realization and pure joy that they have once again lost themselves in their sport in a way they haven’t since they were just kids playing because they wanted to. For this fleeting moment, their pasts have been wiped, their mistakes have been washed, and they are back to those three kids who loved tennis so much, they were willing to give their lives to it. 

Tashi once again screams, “COME ON!”, and to those not paying close enough attention, it may seem she is disappointed in the way the final point has played out. However, it is the exact opposite. She finally sees one of Art’s wins as her own. She has been a part of the games these three characters have played over the past thirteen years as much as the men on the court and when she screams, she is performing her ritual victory call. She finally recaptured how she felt when she won on the court. Her smile – the final frame of the film – exemplifies the joy she feels from getting that sense of victory back in her life from the game she loves most. 

The pacing of this final rally takes the audience right there with the film’s trio. We finally have the full story of these three lead characters; we know all the facts of their relationships, but even we, as viewers, are able to be present in the final moments of their match. We feel like the weight of their shared past shifts elsewhere as we are taken somewhere beyond the story, into another plane where the only thing that matters is the point that is being played. 

Why Challengers Has A Perfect Ending: Explained – Challengers Trailer (Amazon MGM Studios)

Challengers has the perfect ending because it stays true to the overarching themes of the movie while still delivering a satisfying final blow. Guadagnino’s film refuses to give the final, definitive ruling these characters have been so desperately spending the past thirteen years of their lives searching for, but its conclusion gives them and us as an audience so much more. It throws us a bone that Art technically is the victor but reminds us that while winning seems like the prize, the reason they began to play in the first place is a simple and pure love of the game

The film analyzes the obligations, sacrifices and politics that comes along with playing a sport at a professional level, but this perfect ending shows us that the reason they even bother to play is that, above all else, they have committed to their love of the game with every fiber of their being. Through playing this challengers tournament, which seems to be the ultimate deciding factor of their careers more than any Grand Slam win could, their love of tennis has been restored and the passion that made them pour their heart into the game in the first place has been reignited. 

Challengers is now available to watch globally in theaters. Read our review of Challengers!

Challengers Review: Unbridled Filmmaking Talent   – Loud and Clear
Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers exceeds all expectations, proving Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist exist in a new league of stardom.
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