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Billie Jean King Hopes Zendaya’s ‘Challengers’ Can Capture Authenticity of ‘Good Tennis’ (Exclusive)

Billie Jean King Hopes Zendayas The Challengers Can Capture Authenticity of Good Tennis
Billie Jean King, Zendaya John Nacion/WireImage;Neil Mockford/Filmmagic/Getty Images(2)

Even into her 80s, Billie Jean King remains a champion for tennis.

The 39-time Grand Slam winner and advocate for tennis, women and LGBTQIA+ athletes weighed in on Zendaya’s upcoming movie, Challengers, and said she hopes it does the game justice.

“Any time we can get tennis in [a movie], I like it,” King, 80, told Us Weekly exclusively at the QVC Age of Possibility Summit on Wednesday, April 24. “The one thing I always worry about with any sports movie, not tennis only, is that can the person look enough like an athlete or not when they play?”

QVC hosted the first-of-its-kind summit in Las Vegas to kick off the brand’s new platform, Age of Possibility, empowering women over 50 from all walks of life to celebrate who they are. Donna Kelce, Rita Wilson, Kathie Lee Gifford and more stars joined King at the event.

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King isn’t doubting Zendaya’s or her costars’ acting chops, she’s just hopeful that actors can capture the intricacies of professional sports as if they played the games themselves. That extends beyond tennis.

“I think that’s really important in a movie, and then, of course, you’ve got to get the other part right,” she added. “Even, like, football or basketball, any of them, I watch. I’m like, There’s got to be a certain level [of play].’”

If there was any doubt, King thinks Zendaya, 27, is up to the task, noting that she is sure she’ll enjoy the movie. “Good luck to her!” King added.

The summit also gave King an opportunity to reflect on how far sports have come since her playing days — a time when she was outed publicly and immediately lost all her endorsements as a result.

“Everybody told me not to talk about [my sexuality],” she said. “My PR people, my lawyer, everything told me not to. And I said, ‘I’m telling the truth, that’s too bad.’ [They said], ‘It’ll ruin your career,’ I said ‘I don’t care.’”

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She added that while an athlete being outed today would not result in them losing all their endorsements, it was an important starting point for the community.

“You want everyone to lead their authentic life, and whatever that is, let it be,” she concluded. “The trouble with everybody in the world is they want everyone to be like them, and that’s when you get into trouble. Every single one of them is different and we have to honor that.”

With Challengers set to release in theaters on Friday, April 26, Zendaya has been crisscrossing the world to promote the movie that she also coproduced. She told Variety in an interview published on Wednesday that tennis serves as the backdrop to a movie that’s about even more.

“It’s a movie, and it’s tennis, but it’s not a tennis movie,” she said. “It’s much deeper. Tennis is just a metaphor for a lot of bigger s–t. For power. For codependency. They’re using tennis as their device to get these things out of their system. It’s the only way they know how to communicate.”

With reporting by Rachel Smith

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