Naomi Osaka Hilariously Channels Zendaya in ‘Challengers’

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Naomi Osaka is doing her best Zendaya impression.

In a video posted to TikTok on Thursday, May 2,  the four-time Grand Slam champion, 26, paid playful homage to Challengers, the hit romantic drama starring Zendaya as a tennis phenom caught in a steamy love triangle.

“No one: Me after watching Challengers,” Osaka captioned her post, in which she slid on her sunglasses, spun her racket and showed off her serve. For the background music, she chose the super-intense synth score from the movie. 

Recently, the movie’s screenwriter, Justin Kuritzkes, said that he was inspired to write the script after watching Osaka beat her idol, Serena Williams, in an upset victory at the 2018 U.S. Open. Osaka was then 20 years old — a prodigy just like Zendaya’s character, Tashi Duncan, though Kuritzkes did not base Tashi upon Osaka. Her famously riveting match with Williams, however, was another story.

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“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, but you can’t talk to them,” Kuritzkes said in a press conference last month, per Business Insider


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The match was an infamously tense one, with Williams, the fan favorite, arguing with chair umpire Carlos Ramos for giving her three code violations. “[Y]ou stole a point from me, you’re a thief, too,” she told Ramos. 

After the game, which Osaka won 6-2, 6-4, the rivals stood next to one another while observers in the stands booed the result. Osaka covered her face with her visor and cried. Williams hugged Osaka, who told the crowd, “I know that everyone was cheering for [Williams]. I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”

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It was at that moment, Kuritzkes said, the story for Challengers clicked in his mind. “Well, what if you really needed to talk about something? And what if it was something beyond tennis?” he explained. “What if it was something that was going on with the two of you? And what if it involved the person on the other side of the net? How would you have that conversation and how could you communicate the tension of that situation using the tools that are specific to film?”

The drama in Challengers revolves around a pivotal game between former best friends Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), who’s married to Tashi, his coach. Adding to the tension, Patrick is the former lover she just can’t quit. The movie, directed by Luca Guadagnino, opened No. 1. in theaters last weekend. 

(If Osaka wants to make another social-media tribute, she could consider wearing the “I TOLD YA” T-shirt that Zendaya made viral.)

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