Tennis films – some good and some bad – to watch: Featuring Wimbledon, Borg vs McEnroe, King Richard

·6-min read
King Richard Oscars Credit: Alamy
King Richard Oscars Credit: Alamy

The holiday season is upon us and what better way to spend your time off than catching up on tennis films. We have done the hard work for you by coming up with a list of tennis films – some outstanding, some lacking in quality, but still good fun – over the past few decades.

Several major biopic productions have hit the big screens in recent years with King Richard, Borg vs McEnroe and Battle of the Sexes the most noteworthy.

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But of course if you go further back, some fictional tennis films like Wimbledon, Match Point and, erm, Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach have been good distractions from life’s day-to-day hustle and mundanities.

Wimbledon (2004)

If Tin Cup, Love Actually, Fever Pitch, Bend It Like Beckham and other rom coms are your kind of thing, then you will no doubt enjoy Wimbledon, featuring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst.

It’s your typical chick flick and Briton Peter Colt (Bettany) is a journeyman tennis player – who was once at No 11 in the rankings, but has slipped to outside the top 100. He meets rising American star Lizzie Bradbury (Dunst) and after some trials and tribulations Colt ends up winning The Championships, Wimbledon, and – more importantly – they fall in love.

In case you were wondering, match scenes were filmed during Wimbledon 2003.

Balls Out: Gary The Tennis Coach (2009)

Where does one start? For one, it has a decent cast as it features Seann William Scott in the lead role of Gary Houseman and Randy Quaid plays coach Lew Tuttle.

But most films that feature William Scott end up being silly and this is no different.

IMDB has the following synopsis: “A high school janitor has not recovered from his failed career as a tennis pro. He begins coaching his beloved sport to a group of misfits and leads them to the Nebraska State Championships.”

One movie critic wrote on Rotten Tomatoes: “A tad too obvious for my liking but then it’s a Sean William Scott movie – so obviously it’s obvious. But as a tennis redemption movie (not too many of them around) it stands out for a sense of gruff fun.”

To be fair, it was a direct-to-video release.

Break Point (2014)

One of those feel good films with a happy ending as estranged brothers and former tennis partners Jimmy (Jeremy Sisto) and Nick (David Walton) decide to team up to have a go at winning a Grand Slam title.

Grand Slam doubles greats Bob and Mike Bryan both make appearances in the film.

We’ll admit we didn’t watch it, but apparently the actors’ tennis skills are not that great (obviously not Bob and Mike Bryan), but it has been described as “charming” by one movie critic.

Mike D’Angelo from AV critic club went with: “It’s the kind of amiable but predictable trifle that nobody ever seeks out, but that will mildly amuse everyone who happens to stumble onto it when it hits cable and the streaming services.”

7 Days in Hell (2015)

This film was inspired by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut’s 2010 Wimbledon classic that was played over three days and lasted 11 hours and five minutes in total.

It is mockumentary about the rivalry between Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harington), described as two of the greatest tennis players of all time, and they battle it out for seven days at the 2001 Wimbledon.

There is also this: “Aaron Williams is considered ‘The Bad Boy of Tennis.’ He is an American orphan who was found on the streets and adopted by Richard Williams, who raised Aaron with his daughters, Venus and Serena Williams. At the 1996 Wimbledon Finals, his serve hits a line judge, who has an immediate heart attack and dies. Williams falters and loses the championship. At the ceremony following the match, Williams pushes Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent (Howie Mandel), and disappears. ”

Serena Williams, Chris Evert and John McEnroe make guest appearances.

Borg vs McEnroe (2017)

One of the best biopics as it features one of the greatest sporting rivalries between the serene Bjorn Borg and the hot-headed John McEnroe. It focuses on the summer of 1980 as Borg guns for a record fifth Wimbledon title, but the young and volatile McEnroe is standing in his way.

Sverrir Gudnason stars as Borg and Shia LaBeouf plays McEnroe, but the latter was not happy that LaBeouf’s physique during the film.

“You know, Shia LaBeouf’s legs are a little skinny. I was like, ‘why does he, can’t they, you know, beef up his legs or something? Cause my legs weren’t that skinny. So that was sort of disappointing,” the American complained earlier this year.

New York Post critic Johnny Oleksinski wrote: “It’s about damn time somebody made a movie outta these guys.”

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Based on the true story of the 1973 exhibition tennis match between the great Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The original match was watched by about 90 million people.

Wimbledon winner King was urged by her husband to continue her fight for equal pay to play a match against former champion serial hustler Riggs, who was convinced he would beat any woman.

With her husband urging her to fight for equal pay, the private King was also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, while Riggs gambled his legacy and reputation in a bid to relive the glories of his past.

Stone and Carell both received nominations at the 75th Golden Globe Awards the former for Best Actress and the latter for Best Actor.

Did you know?

Former doubles world No 38 Kaitlyn Christian from the United States and her compatriot former ATP world No 18 Vince Spadea were the body doubles for the tennis match scenes.

King Richard (2021)

When a film receives six Oscar nominations you know it is good. Will Smith ended up winning the Best Actor award at the 94th Academy Awards, but that night of course is best remembered for the slapping incident involving Chris Rock.

Back to the biographical sports drama film and it is based on the inspiration Richard Williams (portrayed by Smith) and how he coached his daughters Venus and Serena Williams to become the world No 1 despite their difficult early childhoods in Compton, California.

If you are a tennis fan, then this is a much-watch film.

Randy Myers in San Jose Mercury News writes: “This compelling, well-acted but conventionally told biopic about the unconventional dad of tennis icons Serena and Venus Williams, actor Will Smith makes another convincing bid to collect some acting trophies.”

To come in 2023…

Challengers

There is another tennis film in the pipeline featuring rising star Zendaya, who will play the role of Tashi in Challengers. Tashi coaches by her husband Art (Mike Faist) and of course they go on a brilliant streak. However, Art’s streak ends and he ends up playing against Patrick (Josh O’Connor), Tashi’s ex boyfriend, and you know how these movies end…

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