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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, April 22, 2024

Serena Williams is not only a game-changing champion— she's a ruthless reviewer of her performances in post-match pressers.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion was a notoriously tough critic of her own major performances, rarely giving herself an A grade even after dominant straight-sets Slam wins.

Nadal: Give Everything and Die

Unsurprisingly, Serena pulls no punches as a film reviewer either.

The former world No. 1 offered both praise and some specific criticism of the new tennis-themed movie Challengers.

Challengers star and co-producer Zendaya told Entertainment Tonight, Serena has seen Challengers and said the superstar offered an honest review.

The good news?

Serena calls Challengers "great" and was impressed with the depth of Zendaya's performance, particularly given the Oakland native had not played tennis before taking on the project.

The bad news?

Serena, who has been hitting tennis balls since about the age of 5, immediately detected the CGI ball used in place of a real tennis ball some of the tennis scenes and called it out to Zendaya as inauthentic.

"She was like, 'I know there definitely weren't real [tennis] balls,'" Zendaya told Entertainment Tonight, recalling their conversation. "She knows.

"She's the best of the best."

Zendaya, who cites the Williams Sisters and Roger Federer as her tennis inspirations, trained for the role of tennis champion turned coach with legendary coach and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert.

As part of her preparation for the role of Tashi, Zendaya attended Serena Williams' final professional matches at the 2022 US Open, including her second-round win over Anett Kontaveit.

Reportedly, Zendaya based her character's loud "come ons!" on Serena's famous fist-pumping, emotive eruptions after winning pivotal points.

On the positive side, Serena praised Zendaya's performance as intensely competitive ex-champion Tashi Duncan as "great," the star told Entertainment Tonight. 

To get a "great" from the women's GOAT was satisfying for Zendaya, an accomplished dancer, who underwent about three months of almost daily tennis training to prepare for her role.

The star says she has yet to hit with Serena and shared Venus has not yet seen Challengers, though she's interested in hearing former No. 1 Venus Williams' review.

"[Serena] did say that it was great considering that I had never, never touched a tennis ball before," Zendaya told Entertainment Tonight.

The challenge of training for Challengers left Zendaya with a profound respect for tennis pros and the daily mental and physical pressures they face as part of the job.

"[Tennis] definitely is physically challenging," Zendaya told The Associated Press at the London premiere. "I remember my early tennis lessons and I was like "Oh, I got a long way to go.'

"I'm grateful for this film to introducting me to the world of tennis. Not that I wasn't a tennis fan, I just didn't know much about the game. Through this I've really gotten to learn and understand and appreciate, I think on a greater level, what it takes to truly be a tennis player.

"So I'm definitely in admiration of those who do it."  

Photo credit: Getty