“Challengers” Ending Explained: Who Won the Final Match?

'Challengers,' starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, leaves the audience at the edge of their seats with its contentious ending

<p>Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures</p> Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Mike Faist as Art, Zendaya as Tashi and Josh O'Connor as Patrick in CHALLENGERS, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

Warning: Challenger spoilers ahead!

Challengers has it all: a game of love between three fierce competitors, a time-jumping narrative set across multiple years and a thrilling final match that leaves it all up in the air — literally.

However, the abrupt ending eluded some viewers due to its ambiguity. Luca Guadagnino’s tennis film stars Zendaya as the ruthless Tashi Duncan, a former tennis player who now coaches her husband Art Donaldson (Mike Faist). Throughout the movie, which is told in a series of flashbacks interwoven within the main storyline, Art faces the couple’s friend turned enemy, Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor), in a Challengers match.

The movie concludes with the end of the match — however, it is unclear who took home the trophy. While screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes says the winner ultimately isn't the point, the stakes do feel high for the audience: earlier in the film, Tashi tells Art she'll leave him if he loses the match to Patrick.

Related: Everything to Know About 'Challengers' Starring Zendaya

Guadagnino, however, told Entertainment Weekly in April 2024 that he kept the winner intentionally ambiguous.

"I needed to get this very, very visually amped up and really immersed for the audience to understand how much it meant for them not to win over the other, but to be back together, all of them," he said.

Here’s everything to know about the Challengers ending, from how the heart-stopping match concludes to what it means for the players going forward.

How did Challengers end?

<p>Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.</p> Zendaya as Tashi in CHALLENGERS, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Zendaya as Tashi in CHALLENGERS, directed by Luca Guadagnino, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

Challengers is told in a nonlinear format, often going back and forth between the past and present. In the present, Art and Patrick prepare for a Challengers match, with the latter half of the movie focusing on the game itself. In the past, Art and Patrick vie for Tashi’s attention as teenagers, with Patrick winning her affection first after he beats Art in a match.

However, once Tashi has a career-ending injury, she blames Patrick, and she and Art cut him out of their lives. They end up getting married, with Tashi taking the reins as his coach. Now, Art and Patrick come head to head in a match that determines both of their fates. Art is ready to retire, while Patrick is seeking a comeback — and Tashi just wants to watch some good tennis, regardless of who she’s rooting for.

The movie ends with Patrick revealing to Art that he and Tashi slept together, meaning she was unfaithful in their marriage. Art is furious with both, but his fury fuels him, and he goes on to play the most aggressive game against Patrick.

The final scene shows Art jumping up to slam dunk the tennis ball across the court, which Patrick misses. Art’s jump results in him crashing down into Patrick in a sort of tackle-hug. The movie cuts out with a pan to Tashi, who gets up from her seat and shouts, “Come on!”

"At the end of the film, they have found each other," O'Connor told EW. "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.”

He continued, “For Art, maybe it's getting out of tennis and being with the family, reconnecting with his wife. For Tashi, it's finding that satisfaction in tennis that she lost by having her career stunted. For Patrick, it's also finding that feeling of flow when he was playing tennis with Art as a youngster, or watching Tashi playing tennis as a youngster."

What did the ball-and-racket sign mean?

<p>MGM</p> A still of Patrick (Josh O'Connor) during the final match in "Challengers."


A still of Patrick (Josh O'Connor) during the final match in "Challengers."

Early in the movie, Patrick and Art compete for Tashi's affection, with Patrick ultimately winning her number after defeating Art in a match. When Art pressures Patrick to reveal if he and Tashi slept together, Patrick refuses to say outright. Instead, Patrick tells Art that Art has a signature move when he sets up his serve — putting his ball below the net of his racket on the throat. At Art's insistence, Patrick then uses the move to confirm that he and Tashi had sex.

Years later, just before their final game, Patrick makes the same sign as he’s setting up his serve — making it clear to Art that he slept with Tashi again. Art is heartbroken and furious with both his wife and former friend at first, but uses the anger as motivation to play an aggressive game.

For O’Connor, that’s the moment he thinks all three have finally come back together again.

"In the end, despite the messiest way of navigating themselves there, Patrick realizes in a moment that he's got both of them there, forgets everyone else in the stadium, and it's just like, 'I know exactly how to get him into a place that will satisfy me, him, and her, and let's just have that,' " he told EW.

Who won the match?

<p>MGM</p> Josh O'Connor in 'Challengers'.


Josh O'Connor in 'Challengers'.

In men's tennis, matches — which consist of points, games and sets — can be either a best-of-three sets or best-of-five. Art and Patrick's thrilling match was a best-of-three, meaning the first player to win two sets (which consist of six games each) is the victor. Each set needs to be won by two games, and if there is a tie at the end of a set — as there was in Challengers — the players go into a tiebreaker, and the first player to reach 7 points (by 2 points more than their opponent) wins.

After the first two sets, Art and Patrick each had a win. In the third set, Patrick is serving while down 5-6. If he loses the game, Art will win — so the pressure is on.

Patrick throws Art off by revealing that Tashi slept with him, and after the revelation, Art stands by as Patrick whips his serve over to him, tying the game at 6-6. They move on to a tiebreaker, with Art regaining his steam.

In the first point of the tiebreaker set, they start with an intense, sweaty, volley back and forth for a while, until they're mere feet away from each other on each side of the net. Art then slams the ball into Patrick, and topples over the net onto him.

Art would have lost the point because he broke the rules by touching the net, giving Patrick a 0-1 advantage in the tiebreaker — but the movie cuts out there.

Ultimately, the winner doesn’t matter, however, screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes told TODAY. He explained that after Patrick revealed he and Tashi had sex, all the players’ cards were on the table and the real game begins. Or as Tashi puts it, “some good f------ tennis.”

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

Does Tashi end up with Patrick or Art?

<p>MGM</p> Zendaya in 'Challengers'.


Zendaya in 'Challengers'.

Challengers ends on an ambiguous note. Patrick and Art are smiling and hugging at the end, while Tashi gets up from her chair in what could be interpreted as rage or pride in the incredible tennis she just got to watch, which is what she wanted all along.

However, it’s unclear whether Art and Tashi will stay together. The night before the match, Tashi tells Art that she will leave him if he loses the match to Patrick. It may be Art who leaves her, though, after finding out about her cheating on him. In the end, their future isn’t the point of the movie either.

“I chose to end the movie where I ended the movie, and I chose to end it there because for me, the movie is over,” Kuritzkes told Indie Wire. “For me, what’s going on with these people has resolved in some way that’s satisfying enough for me. And I always want to start a movie as late as possible and end a movie as early as possible. So for me, I got what I needed by then, and I feel like they did too.”

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