The character study was done by Tashi Duncan

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In Challengers’ two-plus-hour running time, Tashi Duncan cheats on her fiancé with his ex–best friend while wearing said fiancé’s dead grandmother’s ring.
Even in Chanel espadrilles and a $2 million bob, there is mounting suspicion that Tashi Duncan ain’t shit.
But Oscar Wilde never met Tashi Duncan, nor the chaotic minds who brought her to life: director Luca Guadagnino, screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes, and Zendaya herself.
In Big Little Lies, Meryl Streep’s character—who also sported an iconic bob—tells Reese Witherspoon’s character that she’s a want-er.
“There are people in life who content themselves with what they have, and there are others who just … want.” Tashi Duncan wants to win, she wants power, she wants to play good fucking tennis.
But deep down, they know: Jesus Christ died for humanity’s sins, and Tashi Duncan would kill for hers.
But Tashi Duncan isn’t a villain any more than the other two corners of this triangle are.
And to play good fucking tennis, like we see in the Challenger final, you need whatever the hell Tashi Duncan has been up to with her two little white boys.

NEUTRAL

Zendaya’s most iconic role to date, prior to Challengers’ release last week, was portraying a drug-addled high school sophomore on Euphoria. In that role, we last witnessed her enterprisingly turn a suitcase full of drugs into her own personal drug stash, accruing a debt of roughly $10,000 to a terrifying drug dealer who listens to way too much Gerry Rafferty.

But in some way, an even more chaotic character is Zendaya’s new defining role.

Throughout the two and a half hours of Challengers, Tashi Duncan betrays her fiancé by sleeping with his former best friend while wearing the ring that belonged to her deceased grandmother. A few years later, she spits in her husband’s face and cuddles with him in the backseat of his Honda, asking him to throw a match so he will continue playing tennis despite the fact that he is a broken and exhausted shell of a man. Then, moments after, she cheats on her husband with the same cuckolding ex-best friend in front of a billboard featuring her husband’s 20-foot-tall visage. There is growing doubt that Tashi Duncan is not a shit, even when she’s sporting a $2 million bob and Chanel espadrilles.

I have to disagree, though. A well-known proverb that is frequently credited to Oscar Wilde—but is best performed by Janelle Monáe—states that everything is about sex except for sex, which is about power. However, neither Oscar Wilde nor the erratic minds of screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes, director Luca Guadagnino, or actress Zendaya herself ever met Tashi Duncan. They may tell you that everything is sex, with the exception of tennis, which is sex. If Tashi Duncan doesn’t seem bad, it’s only because her unbridled desire to succeed on the court caused her to miss opportunities to recognize a thriving triangular relationship for what it truly is—a potentially successful union of two people—for more than ten years.

It’s evident when we meet Tashi in the present that she has attained power and success, but it’s not the power and success she really desired—the power and success she was wrongfully denied years earlier. Tashi Duncan is the epitome of elite tennis in the stands at the Phil’s Tire Town Challenger in New Rochelle, New York. She has an inked partnership with Aston Martin, a Cartier watch, and a tailored shirt dress that was starched by someone else.

Thanks to her intelligence and her husband Art’s body (and occasionally his ex-best friend Patrick’s body when they’re in Atlanta, let’s face it, she’s clearly advanced economically in the world). But unlike her spouse, Tashi is not as content with wealth, status, or a long-term relationship with a Spider-Verse-loving child. Meryl Streep, who also wore an iconic bob, tells Reese Witherspoon’s character in Big Little Lies that she’s a want-er. “In life, some people are happy with what they have, while others simply want things.”. Tashi Duncan is a woman who desires power, victory, and excellent fucking tennis. Since Art married Tashi, he is happy because all he really wanted was Tashi (and Patrick when they were playing tennis, in the dining hall, or in their motel room). Soon after Art tells his wife and coach that he intends to retire at the end of the season, she discovers him soundly asleep in bed with their small daughter. It offers a glimpse of his tennis-free future as a wealthy, attractive, and devoted father. It sounds quite nice.

After Art’s rare instance of open communication, where can we find Tashi? Oh, right—on a covert meeting with his long-standing psychosexual rival, pleading with him to allow Art to win their Challenger match in a desperate attempt to muster up enough (false!) confidence to prevent Art from retiring. Finally, in the midst of a real trash storm in a parking lot in New Rochelle, she fucks Patrick after fighting, slapping, and forcing him to do so when pleading fails.

Alright, that makes sense. Perhaps Tashi is frequently trash because of her unquenchable desire to succeed. For a valid reason, though, she conceals her ambition. If Tashi’s relentless pursuit of success and power isn’t nothing more than a decades-long attempt to hide the reality that her life has been a tragedy and that she fears she will never be able to move past it, then what good is it?

When Tashi Duncan turned twenty, her career on the Stanford tennis team ended due to an unwarranted detour she took to acquire skills beyond just “hitting a ball with a racket.” However, she soon realized that hitting a ball with a racket was all she really needed or wanted. At eighteen, Duncan was a tennis prodigy with an Adidas deal and an endlessly promising future. After realizing her dream has been dashed, Tashi loses her cool with Patrick, whose talent and determination she admires but whose lack of drive prevents her from feeling an emotional connection with him. She falls in love with Art and helps him become a successful tennis player, but she never lets go of the belief that his talent and ambition are insufficient to match hers. She starts living half a life—haunting a place that once belonged to her—instead of lamenting the future she lost. Is Tashi frightening her two young white boys in an attempt to accomplish something that was capable of only being accomplished by her own two healthy knees? Potentially. I doubt it was appropriate for Patrick to tell someone that he was “a better shot with a handgun in his mouth” than he was to win a Grand Slam at age 31. Of course! In a way that made it difficult to determine if she was serious, did it not at all allay Art’s deepest fear—that she would leave him if he didn’t beat Patrick?

This is the issue, though.

Those two little white boys? They always liked her giving them instructions. They enjoy her throwing them into a bewildered tizzy, and her tennis loss doesn’t make that any different for her—only for her. Art and Patrick treat Tashi like a goddess from the first minute they meet her. When Tashi asks him cynically, “What am I, Jesus?” Art answers, “Yeah,” and eventually confesses to her that all he wants is for her to love him even after he finishes playing tennis. To Patrick, Tashi’s love is just a carrot that is constantly in front of him; to Art, it is everything. However, they secretly know that Tashi Duncan would kill to atone for her sins, just as Jesus Christ died to atone for humanity’s. This wound was the ultimate betrayal of both the universe and oneself, for Tashi. Certainly, talk therapy would have been a more effective means of addressing the anxiety and sadness associated with such a loss; however, in this tangled triangle, leveraging the attraction between two ex-best friends who are also professional tennis players sort of works, too.

On Zendaya’s incredibly expressive face, the expression on teenage Tashi’s face as she watches Art and Patrick kissing above her in a filthy motel room could be that of an all-powerful god. It might be a monster’s. However, Tashi Duncan is not a villain in the same sense as this triangle’s other two corners. She’s just an unfortunate person attempting to con her way to success. God, she kind of pulls it off. Like she had dreamed of being at eighteen, complete with sex, power, and tennis.

Tennis, Tashi tells Art and Patrick, is a relationship, not a way to express oneself, when they first come into her life. After all, playing tennis requires an opponent. And whatever the hell Tashi Duncan has been up to with her two little white boys, you need it to play good fucking tennis, like we saw in the Challenger final. Tashi, Art, and Patrick would all kill to be accepted by them again, and Tashi would kill to be whole again. Together, they are indispensable to each other’s progress and, in the surprisingly happy conclusion, they all want each other, so everything functions in perfect, toxic harmony.

Tashi once admitted to the guys at her Junior U., “It was like we were in love for about 15 seconds there.”. S. The opponent in the open final—who later emerged as the no. 1 women’s player on the professional circuit while Tashi is away. After the last Rosebud racket reveals that Patrick has had sex with Tashi once more, Art is motivated to play like he wants to win once more in the present. The distance between them all narrows as their volley intensifies into a fervor that is almost uncharacteristic of tennis, and then Art smashes over the net and into Patrick’s arms, their faces shattered into beaming smiles. Tashi lets out an uncontrollably exuberant scream of ecstasy, the kind she hasn’t let out since her previous performance. The kind that only a fleeting instance of unforeseen coincidence merits. Finally united as one, three abandoned vessels became flawless.

Tashi has guided Art and Patrick in that last moment as they have finally found their way back to each other and to tennis. There’s also a hint of it there: Tashi’s opportunity to achieve contentment rather than just winning, power, or tennis.

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