Challengers ending explained: Where do Art and Patrick leave things?

Zendaya leads steamy new tennis drama about a love triangle formed between three friends

Inga Parkel
Monday 29 April 2024 23:34 BST
Challengers trailer

Warning – Major spoilers ahead for Challengers

Director Luca Guadagnino’s new film, Challengers, ends on an extremely enigmatic note that has left viewers wondering who ends up on top.

Created by screenwriter and novelist Justin Kuritzkes, the tennis psychodrama stars Zendaya as Tashi, a former professional tennis player-turned-coach to her husband Art (Mike Faist). To shake him off his losing streak, she enters him into a low-level tournament where they’re reunited with his former best friend and Tashi’s ex-boyfriend, Patrick (Josh O’Connor).

Largely told in flashbacks, the movie unravels the truth behind what happened between the three friends that led to Patrick’s estrangement.

It’s explained early on that Patrick and Art were childhood best friends. During one of their final junior US Open tournaments, they meet and both fall in love with tennis prodigy Tashi.

Tashi eventually chooses Patrick and starts a relationship with him. During one tennis practice, Art tries to get Patrick to spill the details of his new relationship with Tashi. He tells Patrick to imitate his serve by putting his hand to the throat of the racket to confirm if he’s slept with her.

Mike Faist, from left, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor in ‘Challengers’
Mike Faist, from left, Zendaya and Josh O’Connor in ‘Challengers’ (© 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Fast forward to the present day, when Art and Patrick are up against each other in the finals for the low-level tournament.

Just as Art is leading the game, Patrick slyly flashes their secret childhood hand signal, letting Art know that he and Tashi slept together the night before. In a rage, Art gives up the final three points and the two are forced into a tiebreaker.

The final scenes of the movie show Art and Patrick engaging in an intense and climactic match point that ends with Ant jumping high into the air for an overhead. Instead of showing where the ball lands, though, the final shot ends with Ant landing over the net and falling into the arms of Patrick who embraces him in a hug of sorts.

‘Challengers’ hand signal
‘Challengers’ hand signal (Screenshot courtesy of X/Warner Bros)

Responding to viewer confusion about the ending and whether or not Patrick or Ant won, Kuritzkes told Today: “The question of ‘Who wins the match?’ just felt so totally irrelevant.

Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free
Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free

“In many ways, this is a movie about people who can only really speak their hearts on the tennis court, through action, through playing,” he added.

“I think by the end for me, they’re playing all of a sudden. Art and Patrick are playing a real point, and somehow Tashi is playing, too. So the movie’s over.”

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, O’Connor explained that to him, Art and Patrick’s final embrace implied forgiveness for their years-long feud.

“They’ve been all searching for a way and getting it terribly wrong, searching for a way to satisfy that need, that hunger for each other. And they’re all trying to find their way in different ways,” the actor said, adding that he believes the revelation of Tashi’s infidelity pushed Art to play the game in a way that satisfied all three characters.

“That’s the thing: everyone’s right and everyone’s wrong,” Faist added in the same interview. “The exciting thing about this film is that people are going to have an opinion, and a very visceral one, and one that allows people to have that kind of an exchange where it’s like, ‘I think this,’ ‘No, I think this, and here’s why,’ and they actually are coming out of the theatre engaged in a conversation about the story. People are leaving the theatre engaged still with the material itself, and that’s in itself the joy for me.”

Challengers is out in cinemas now.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in