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Top 10 Tennis Films

All mentioned films in article
Not released
Not released

As the 136th Wimbledon Championhips reach the business end, Cinema Paradiso serves up an ace account of how tennis has been depicted on film.

Tennis is a game of agility, power, grace, and guile. It should be perfect for the cinema, with panning shots following the ball across the net and sudden reaction cuts to the players conveying the pace and intensity of key points. But it's never quite caught the viewing public's imagination in the same way as films about boxing, baseball, and American Football. Perhaps this is because, like golf, tennis is considered something of an elitist sport, with its private clubs and strict codes of dress and on-court decorum.

As a consequence, there are few iconic movies centred entirely on tennis. As it's a great social game, however, and makes for a handy sporting metaphor, it crops up in all manner of dramas, comedies, and thrillers. But we could do with a few more tennis horrors along the lines of the 'Tennis Court' episode in Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984). Cinema Paradiso users can, however, see Ken Foree try to relieve the stress of being trapped in a shopping mall surrounded by marauding zombies by hitting tennis balls against a wall in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and cop Linda Day go undercover as a tennis instructor at an exclusive school in order to catch a jigsaw-obsessed serial killer in Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces (1982).

A still from Rabies (2010)
A still from Rabies (2010)

Director Jay Chandrasekhar takes the role of dreadlocked tennis instructor Puttnam Livingston (who claims to have been André Agassi's partner for a week), as a serial killer goes on the rampage on Pleasure Island in Club Dread (2004), while four tennis buddies, a pair of incestuous siblings, two cops, a park ranger and his wife, and a murderer venture into an Israeli forest in Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's Rabies (2010). And there's always the sight of teen Michael Hoog falling victim to a splintered tennis racquet in Christopher Landon's Blumhouse satire, Freaky (2020).

Sport of Kings

The roots of tennis date back to the 12th century, when players struck a ball with the palm of their hands in a pastime called 'jeu de paume'. This would have been the version current in the early 14th century. But Derek Jarman could never resist an anachronism and he has the king (Steven Waddington) and his brother Kent (Jerome Flynn) play tennis with racquets in Edward II (1991). Henry VIII was a keen player of 'real tennis' and had a court built specially at Hampton Court. Indeed, he was supposedly in the middle of a game when he was informed of the execution of Anne Boleyn, which has been re-enacted in such features as Charles Jarrott's Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Justin Chadwick's The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). Jonathan Rhys-Meyers can be seen racquet in hand in The Tudors (2007-10), while tennis balls played a vital role in the production of Wolf Hall (2015), as they were fitted over the feet of lighting stands and camera tripods to prevent them from scratching the floors of the National Trust properties in which the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's bestseller was filmed.

Damien Lewis played Henry opposite Mark Rylance's Thomas Cromwell in the series and Lewis would get to play real tennis in another guise when Bobby Axelrod and Franklin Sacker (Harry Lennix) have a game in the 'Opportunity Zone' episode of Billions (2016-23). Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, was a keen tennis watcher and William Shakespeare included a reference to the game in Henry V, which was filmed by Laurence Olivier in 1944 and Kenneth Branagh in 1989. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead was inspired by Hamlet and the playwright shot a scene with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth on a vacant real tennis court in his 1990 film version.

Taking a break from psychoanalysing Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson), Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) engages in a lively game instead of fighting a duel with Prussian baron Karl von Leinsdorf (Jeremy Kemp) in Herbert Ross's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), which was filmed at the famous Queen's Club in West London. The Merton Street court in Oxford can also be seen an hour into Robert Boris's rowing saga, Oxford Blues (1984), which saw Rob Lowe follow in the footsteps of Robert Taylor in Jack Conway's A Yank At Oxford (1938) and Stan Laurel in Alfred Goulding's A Chump At Oxford (1940) in overcoming prejudice to become a college hero.

The former really should be on disc in this country, as it helped Vivien Leigh land the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind (1939). However, there's another chance to see Britain's second-oldest real tennis court in the 2007 'Old School Ties' episode of Lewis (2007-15), which comes between Inspector Morse (1987-95) and Endeavour (2013-23) in the whodunit series inspired by the works of Colin Dexter. Those looking for other brief instances of real tennis on court should seeks out Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers (1973), Karel Reisz's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Andy Tennant's Ever After (1998), and Matt Brown's The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015), which includes a game between of Cambridge mathematicians G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) and John Edensor Littlewood (Toby Jones).

Biopics & Docs

Someone has missed a trick when it comes to Fred Perry, the British tennis ace who won a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles in the mid-1930s. Not only was Perry a fine player, but he also possessed film star looks. Indeed, RKO offered the strapping pin-up a contract at $50,000 per picture. However, he was dissuaded by the Lawn Tennis Association, although that didn't stop Perry from romancing such Hollywood legends as Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich, while he was also close friends with Bette Davis and Loretta Young.

Tap their names into the Cinema Paradiso searchline to discover their best films. Also try Helen Vinson, the Texan who was Perry's second wife and who appeared in such features as Frank Capra's Broadway Bill (1934), John Cromwell's In Name Only (1939), William Keighley's Torrid Zone, A. Edward Sutherland's Beyond Tomorrow (both 1940), and Richard Thorpe's The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).

Sporting stars were frequently given the biopic treatment in Hollywood during the Golden Age. Given his friendship with Charlie Chaplin, it's surprising that 1920s legend Bill Tilden wasn't immortalised on screen, although his brushes with the law in the late 1940s rendered Big Bill persona non grata. Errol Flynn might also have pushed Warners to make a tennis movie, as he was such a proficient player that he qualified for the Men's Doubles at the US Nationals (the precursor of the US Open) with Wimbledon champion, Sidney Wood.

Althea Gibson won the US Nationals, as well as becoming the first African American to triumph at the French Open and Wimbledon. Having made her screen debut as a liberated slave in John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959), she became a professional golfer. Unfortunately, Rex Miller's 2014 documentary, Althea, isn't available on disc, but hopes are high that the forthcoming biopic scripted by Oscar winner Geoffrey S. Fletcher from Gibson's memoir will get widely released, especially as Whoopi Goldberg is among the producers.

To date, Daniel Haller's teleplay, Little Mo (1978), which starred Glynnis O'Connor, is the only biopic of Maureen Connolly, the teenage American who became the first woman to win the Calendar Slam of all four majors in one year. With seven titles to her credit, however, Connolly's career ended with a riding fall in July 1954 and she died of ovarian cancer at the age of just 34. The life of Renée Richards (who was born Richard Radley) has also been related in a TV-movie, with Vanessa Redgrave playing the eye surgeon who battled to become the first transgender player at the US Open in Anthony Page's Second Serve (1986). This has since been followed by Eric Drath's documentary, Renée (2011).

A still from Wimbledon: The Official Film 2018 (2018)
A still from Wimbledon: The Official Film 2018 (2018)

Narrated by James Mason, Wimbledon: The Official Film (1976) is a documentary featurette with contributions by such all-time greats as Chris Evert, Björn Borg, Sue Barker, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, llie Nastase, Roscoe Tanner, Virginia Wade, Martina Navratilova, and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Cathy Jones's Wimbledon: A History of the Championship (2000) has its own stellar line-up that includes Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, and Venus Williams. Jones was responsible for several editions of Wimbledon: The Official Film in the 2010s, a number of which are available from Cinema Paradiso. But the most significant came in 2018, which commemorated both the 150th anniversary of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and 50 years since the 1968 Championships had launched the Open era.

The big names are also out in force in photographer William Klein's The French (1982), which really should be on disc. As should Julie Anderson's Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World (1994) and Rex Miller's Citizen Ashe (2021), which profile the sole Black player to win the Men's Singles at Wimbledon. Plans are currently afoot to make a biopic of a role model who contracted HIV from contaminated blood during open-heart surgery. Among the producers is Ashok Amritraj, who. like his brothers Anand and Vijay (more of whom anon) is an ex-pro.

A still from Battle of the Sexes (2017)
A still from Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director Jane Anderson clearly knows a good tennis topic when she sees one, as her 2001 teleplay, When Billie Beat Bobby, has been followed by James Erskine's documentary, The Battle of the Sexes (2013), and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's Battle of the Sexes (2017). Holly Hunter and Ron Silver initially played 29 year-old World No.1 Billie Jean King and 55 year-old former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs engaging in their epic 1973 showdown, while Emma Stone and Steve Carell more recently earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances. Pros Kaitlyn Christian and Vince Spadea acted as body doubles for the tennis sequences in an acclaimed but commercially underperforming saga that was scripted by Simon Beaufoy around the time that Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti were being lined up by producer Tom Hanks for a rival picture and Will Ferrell had been announced as Riggs in The Match Maker.

Frustratingly, Unmatched (2014), Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters's account of Chris Evert's duels with Martina Navratilova, is not currently on offer. Neither is Julien Faraut's magnificent analysis of a champion and his distinctive technique, John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018). However, the New York leftie can be seen addressing the issues that impacted upon his career in Barney Douglas's McEnroe (2022), while Cinema Paradiso users can also judge whether the orange juice was slurped in the 'McEnroe Home' sketch on The Best of Not the 9 O'Clock News, Volume 2 (2004).

The pick of the Super Brat entries, however, has to be Janusz Metz Pedersen's Borg vs McEnroe (2017), in which Shia LaBoeuf and Sverrir Gudnasson excel in portraying McEnroe and Björn Borg in a thrilling recreation of the 1980 Wimbledon final that saw the Swede going for his fifth consecutive Men's Singles win. Despite the controversy around him, McEnroe became one of the greats of the game and married into an A-list Hollywood family when he exchanged vows with Tatum O'Neal, who had become the youngest winner of a competitive Oscar for her performance opposite her father, Ryan, in Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon (1973). Although more accomplished as a musician, McEnroe also took a stab at acting when guesting alongside Adam Sandler in Steven Brill's Mr Deeds, a 2002 remake of Frank Capra's Oscar winner, Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Peter Segal's Anger Management (2003), and Dennis Dugan's You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2007).

Sandler also offered cameos to Andy Roddick in Dugan's Just Go With It (2011) and Serena Williams in Chris Columbus's Pixels (2015). Williams has also essayed Agent Ross in Leslie Small's Hair Show (2004) and cameo'd as herself and Gary Ross's Ocean's 8 (2018). Steffi Graf similarly took a guest slot in the 1989 German comedy, Otto - Der Außerfriesische, while Chris Evert got the call from Amy Schuler to appear in Judd Apatow's Trainwreck (2015). Most notable among those to try the acting racket, however, is Vijay Amritraj, who followed abetting Roger Moore's 007 in John Glen's Octopussy (1983) by portraying Starship Captain Joel Randolph in Leonard Nimoy's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

Back on the actuality trail, it's to be hoped there will be a release on disc for Alex Gibney's Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker (2023), which explores the German champion's recent troubles away from the game. Also annoyingly out of reach (for now) are Jason Kohn's Love Means Zero (2017) about star coach Nick Bollettieri; Andrew Douglas's Strokes of Genius (2018), which focusses on the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; Olivia Cappuccini's Andy Murray: Resurfacing (2019), which chronicles the two-time Wimbledon winner's recovery from career-threatening injury; and Francis Armat's Unraveling Athena (2020), which delves into the darker side of life on the women's tour.

A still from Venus and Serena (2012)
A still from Venus and Serena (2012)

In the meantime, Cinema Paradiso can offer Maiken Baird and Michelle Major's Venus and Serena (2012), which follows the Williams sisters through the ups and downs of the 2011 season. Among the talking heads are Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, and Chris Rock, who would, of course, be slapped by Will Smith at the Oscar ceremony that saw the latter win Best Actor for portraying Richard Williams in Reinaldo Marcus Green's King Richard (2021). Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton play Venus and Serena coming up through the public courts in Compton to conquer the world, while tennis fans will also recognise Christopher Wallinger as John McEnroe, Chase Del Rey as Pete Sampras, Jessica Wacnik as Jennifer Capriati, and Marcela Zacarías as Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.

Game, Set and Movie

Outside biopics, films whose storylines turn on tennis are comparatively rare. One of the earliest, Henrik Galeen's After the Verdict (1929), sees Olga Tschechowa accused of murdering tennis ace Warwick Ward's wife. Sadly, this Anglo-German co-production is presumed lost, while William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's Tennis Chumps (1949) isn't on any available Tom and Jerry compilation.

More frustratingly, no UK label has issued British actor-director Ida Lupino's outstanding Hard, Fast and Beautiful, in which rising tennis star Sally Forrest rebels against domineering mother, Claire Trevor. What a double bill this would make with Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (both 1951), which charts the efforts of Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) to talk tennis icon Guy Haines (Farley Granger) into a murderous pact, in which they would bump off the other's mother and wife to avoid leaving a trail of inconvenient clues. However, a cigarette lighter decorated with racquets slips down a storm drain and Bruno strains to retrieve it while Guy jousts on court with a tricky opponent.

Patricia Highsmith wrote the source novel and tennis also merits a mention in Anthony Minghella's adaptation of her classic thriller, The Talented Mr Ripley (1999). Hitch would also turn to tennis again, as cuckolded former pro Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) contracts a killer to dispose of wealthy wife Margot (Grace Kelly) in Dial M For Murder (1954), which was based on an acclaimed stage play by Frederick Knott.

A still from Racquet (1979)
A still from Racquet (1979)

Back in the ranks of the missing is James Frawley's The Christian Licorice Store (1971), which explores how tennis star Beau Bridges allows fame and fortune to go to his head when he hits Hollywood. However, Cinema Paradiso can bring you David Winters's Racquet. Similarly analysing the corrupting nature of success, the action follows the efforts of ageing pro Bert Convey to raise $200,000 in order to open his own tennis club. Among those adding colour are Bobby Riggs and Björn Borg. Despite being billed as ' Shampoo for the tennis set' (try Hal Ashby's 1975 classic in a double bill), this comedy couldn't compete for famous faces with Anthony Harvey's Players (both 1979), a cult drama about Wimbledon contender Dean Paul Martin's crush on millionaire's fiancée Ali MacGraw that boasts walk-ons by John McEnroe, Pancho Gonzales, Guillermo Vilas, John Lloyd, Vijay Amritraj, Tom Gullikson, Dennis Ralston, Ion Tiriac, and Ilie Nastase. BBC legend Dan Maskell provides the commentary and it's a favourite of Quentin Tarantino's, so there's really no excuse for it not being available to rent.

A tennis star seeks vengeance on the blackmailers trying to ruin his reputation in Azusa Katsume's The Hidden Trail of the Beasts (1981), while teenagers Carling Bassett and Shawn Foltz go AWOL from a Florida tournament in Joseph L. Scanlen's Spring Fever (1982). Like Steve Carver's Jocks (1987), however, they're currently unavailable. The same is true of Robert Kaylor's Nobody's Perfect (1990), but this cross-dressing riff on the last line of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959) can claim a spiritedly silly turn from Chad Lowe, as Steve the college freshman who disguises himself as Stephanie and joins the women's tennis team in order to be close to star player, Shelly (Gail O'Grady).

A still from The Break (1995)
A still from The Break (1995)

Kevin Costner and Anthony Quinn hook up for a reunion knock about on the latter's private court in Tony Scott's thriller, Revenge (1990), although the old pals act comes under pressure when Costner falls for Quinn's young wife, Madeleine Stowe. There's also plenty of plot to get stuck into in Lee H.Katzin's The Break (1995), a teleplay that stars Vince Van Patten as a player whose career came to an abrupt end when he thumped an opponent during a televised match. His hopes of making it as a coach rest on teenager Ben Jorgensen, although strict father Martin Sheen is against him turning professional. Can old flame Rae Dawn Chong convince Van Patten to do the right thing, even though he owes Sheen a sizeable gambling debt?

Centre Court appears in all its glory as the focus switches to SW19 in Richard Loncraine's Wimbledon (2004), in which serial underachiever Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) gets a wildcard to the All England Club. But, while a chance meeting with emerging women's star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst) prompts the world 119 to raise his game, her form suffers as she realises that there's more to life than winning. Drifting into coaching after his playing days end, Irish grafter Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is grateful to find a wealthy student in Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). No sooner has he committed to marry Hewett's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), however, than Wilton falls for Hewett's American fiancée, Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), in Match Point (2005), Woody Allen's atypical stab at psychological suspense.

The former features guest appearances by Chris Evert and John McEnroe, while the latter earned Allen an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. They positively beg to be rented as a double bill from Cinema Paradiso, but members will have to make do without Donal Logue's Tennis, Anyone? (2005), in which the director plays a struggling actor who joins a celebrity tennis circuit. It's not just the players who have it tough, however, as Gary 'The Beast' Houseman (Seann William Scott) discovers in Gary Leiner's Gary the Tennis Coach (2009), as a washed-up former pro quits his job as a janitor at the school where buddy Lew Tuttle (Randy Quaid) had been the gym teacher in order to put together a team for a tournament in Nebraska.

Fitfully amusing though this is, it's overshadowed by Jake Szymanski's mockumentary, 7 Days in Hell (2015), which pits American Andy Samberg and Brit Kit Harrington in a week-long tussle that was inspired by the marathon 2010 Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut, which features in Cathy Jones's Wimbledon: 2010 Official Film. Considered by some the best tennis movie ever made, this hilarious HBO featurette isn't on disc, but really ought to be, if only for Chris Evert and John McEnroe completists, as they're on cameo duty again.

It would be hard to keep up with all of the TV episodes spun off from Takeshi Konomi's 1999- 2008 manga series, The Prince of Tennis, which centres on school prodigy, Ryoma Echizen. So, we'll have to leave it on the out of reach shelf, along with Joachim Lafosse's Private Lessons (2008), Tim Kirman's 2nd Serve, Adam Lipsius's 16-Love (both 2012), Jay Karas's Break Point (2014), Robert Cannon's 30-Love (2017), Gina O'Brien's First One In (2020), Jessica Harmon's Game, Set, Love (2022), and the new Amazon series, Fifteen Love (2023), which charts the progress of teenage star Ella Lily Hyland and her coach, Aidan Turner.

A still from Challengers (2023)
A still from Challengers (2023)

Maybe somebody can do something about Quentin Renaud's Final Set (both 2020), in which mother Kristin Scott-Thomas and wife Ana Girardot try to dissuade the once promising Alex Lutz from risking his dodgy knee on a tilt at the French Open at Roland Garros at the age of 37. In the meantime, Rupert Wyatt's The Gambler (2014) reworks Karel Reisz's 1974 adaptation of a story by Fyodor Dostoyesvsky to reveal how English professor Mark Wahlberg comes to rely on college tennis player Emory Cohen to help him out of a big bucks betting jam involving an underground betting boss and a loan shark. And, of course, there's always Luca Guadagnino's Challengers (2023) to look forward to, which joins player-turned-coach Zendaya in her effort to jolt husband Mike Faist out of a losing streak by making him enter a low-level tournament against his teenage nemesis and love rival, Josh O'Connor.

Passing Shots

On seeing Jacques Tati's 'Impressions Sportives' music hall act in 1936, the French writer Colette - who was played by Keira Knightley in Wash Westmoreland's Colette (2018) - enthused: 'His act is partly ballet and partly sport, partly satire and partly a charade. He has devised a way of being both the player, the ball and the tennis racquet, of being simultaneously the football and the goalkeeper, the boxer and his opponent, the bicycle and the cyclist.' Tati would dust down these pantomimic skits for his circus swan song, Parade (1974). In Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953), however, he honed the racquet routine to comic perfection for perhaps the best tennis scene in screen history.

Having treated his fellow residents at a seaside guest house to his unique table tennis skills, the gregarious Hulot (Tati) takes to the outdoor court to unleash the most hilarious service action ever seen. Wearing his jacket and a homemade paper hat, Hulot thrusts the racquet horizontally back and forth at hip height before sending down a series of fizzers that have his opponents hopping around the court, to the evident delight of the Englishwoman (Valentine Camaz) perched in the umpire's chair.

Not even Charlie Chaplin could match the farcical grace of this sequence, which is one of many tennis interludes that Cinema Paradiso users can access from our unrivalled collection of over 100,000 titles. Katharine Hepburn, however, was a fine player and would have given Hulot a decent game, as she demonstrates as Pat Pemberton alongside such American champions as Don Budge, Gussie Moran, and Alice Marble in George Cukor's battle-of-the-sexes screwball, Pat and Mike (1952). During the match against 'Gorgeous Gussie', Pemberton is 3-2 up after winning the first set. But the arrival of her fiancé puts her off her game to the extent that her racquet seems to shrink, the ball swell in size and the net become ever higher.

There is markedly less competitive edge about the game that Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan enjoy on the beach at Trouville in Vincente Minnelli's Colette musicalisation, Gigi (1958), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) took the same Oscar two years later. But it's hard to gauge office drone Jack Lemmon's proficiency on the court, as he only uses his racquet to strain spaghetti while preparing for a dinner date with lift attendant Shirley MacLaine.

A still from School for Scoundrels (1960)
A still from School for Scoundrels (1960)

A tennis sequence proved the highlight of another 1960 comedy, Robert Hamer's School For Scoundrels, which was inspired by Stephen Potter's series of books on Lifemanship. Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is keen to make a good impression on April Smith (Janette Scott) when he invites her to watch him play. But the raffish Raymond Delauney (Terry-Thomas) uses every trick in the book to humiliate Palfrey by making him serve into the sun and greeting each muffed shot with a cynically sympathetic call of 'Hard cheese'. Such subtlety was at a premium, however, when Jon Heder and Billy Bob Thornton pair up for a game of doubles in Todd Phillips's 2006 remake.

Harking back to the golden age of British screen comedies, Sidney Gilliat's Only Two Can Play (1962) - which was based on Kingsley Amis's novel, That Uncertain Feeling - has a tennis scene, as Swansea librarian Peter Sellers is torn between wife Virginia Maskell and glamorous councillor's wife, Mai Zetterling. Staying with infidelity, a tennis club locker room is the setting for one of Walter Matthau's adultery tutorials for Robert Morse in Gene Kelly's A Guide For the Married Man (1967).

A number of arthouse features include tennis scenes. The focus of Janusz Morgenstern's Good Bye, Till Tomorrow (1960) is on the relationship between Gdansk actor Zbigniew Cybulski and elusive French girl, Teresa Tuszynska. But keep an eye out for a young Roman Polanski during the tennis match. A chic Parisian club provides the backdrop for a tense exchange between Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) and Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli) in Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967), while Éric Rohmer slipped tennis references into Claire's Knee (1970), Full Moon in Paris (1984), and Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987).

Similarly, English sisters Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter play tennis together in François Truffaut's Anne and Muriel (1971), which was adapted from a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche, who also wrote Jules et Jim (1961). In a very nouvelle vaguish gambit, Véronique Silver stands on a court to introduce the action in Truffaut's The Woman Next Door (1981), which includes a tennis meet cute involving Gérard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant.

A game of mime tennis is staged in a quiet park by Michelangelo Antonioni in his Swinging London thriller, Blow-Up (1966), which concludes with photographer David Hemmings being coaxed into throwing back the imaginary ball after it's knocked over a wire fence. Good nature is in much shorter supply, as rival Oxford academics Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) and Charley (Stanley Baker) team up for a game of doubles with students Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) and William (Michael York) in Joseph Losey's Accident (1967).

An ominous atmosphere also pervades the tennis sequences in Vittorio De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). Adapted from Giorgio Bassani's semi-autobiographical novel, the story is set in Ferrara in 1938 and sees wealthy Jewish siblings, Micòl (Dominque Sanda) and Alberto (Helmut Berger), invite Giorgio (Lino Capolicchio) and Giampiero (Fabio Testi) to use their family court after the Fascists impose restrictions upon access to the public facilities.

Ann-Margret looks on impassively as husband Jack Nicholson plays tennis with best friend Art Garfunkel in Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge (1971), while Robert Redford looks very much the part in his whites en route to the court in Sydney Pollack's The Way We Were (1973). Redford should have looked confident, however, as he used to play against former champion Pancho Gonzales as a youth. But appearances can be deceptive, as everything looks set for a jolly tennis party in the 'Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days' sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74) before things get rather gory. A sci-fi spoof in the 'You're No Fun Anymore' episode culminates in some alien blancmanges trying to win Wimbledon. However, they're confounded by a kilt-wearing Scotsman (long before Andy Murray triumphed, albeit in regulation shorts).

A bullied public schoolboy finds his mother risquély departing from the traditional tennis dress code in 'Tomkinson's Schooldays', which launched Michael Palin and Terry Jones's Ripping Yarns series (1976-79). The game in Norman Panama's Barnaby and Me (1976) is between conman Sid Caesar and Australian legend John Newcombe, which is watched with interest by widow Juliet Mills, young daughter Sally Boyden, and a talking koala bear. This has the feel of a Children's Film Foundation offering, but it's cricket rather than tennis that Keith Chegwin programmes his father's invention to play in Milo Lewis's Egghead's Robot (1970).

The following year, an indoor Manhattan sports club hosted the 'la-di-da' badinage in Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) between Annie (the Oscar-winning Diane Keaton) and Alvy Singer (Allen) after they meet for the first time during a game with mutual friends. Doubtless, this was more genial than the showdown during a fractious vacation in Herbert Ross's take on Neil Simon's hit play, California Suite (1978), which sees tempers fray when Chauncey Gump (Richard Pryor) and his wife Lola (Gloria Gifford) take on Dr Willis Panama (Bill Cosby) and his spouse, Bettina (Sheila Frazier).

At least the feuding friends have an inkling of what they're supposed to be doing, unlike Spaz (Jack Bloom) and Fink (Keith Knight), who discover that there's more to tennis than keeping hold of the racquet when serving during a knockabout knock about with two bemused girls in Ivan Reitman's summer camp romp, Meatballs (1979). The venue is a bit more up-market in John Landis's Trading Places (1983), as Todd (Robert Curtis Brown) and the other members of the Zeta Chi fraternity sing a barbershop quartet to their best gals, with a tennis match going on through the window behind them.

Tom Hanks and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson respectively have different problems laying racquet to ball in Neal Israel's Bachelor Party (1984) and Michael Ritchie's Fletch (1985). While playing with girlfriend Debbie Thompson (Tawny Kitaen) and her parents on their private court, Rick Gassko (Hanks) keeps whacking the ball baseball-style into a neighbouring garden, while Gail Stanwyk (Wheeler-Nicholson) struggles to hit anything lobbed her way by a serving machine, while she is being interrogated by undercover reporter Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase), who can't even make it through the country club car park without thumping a car's paintwork with his racquet.

Sticking with comedy, Teddy Pierce (Gene Wilder) plays tennis with pals facing various mid-life crises in The Woman in Red (1984), which Wilder adapted from Yves Robert's French hit, Pardon Mon Affaire (aka An Elephant Can Be Extremely Deceptive, 1976), and earned Stevie Wonder the Oscar for Best Song for 'I Just Called to Say I Love You'. But there's nothing to smile about when a 12:30 tennis match provides Jane Birkin with an alibi after Diana Rigg is strangled in Guy Hamiton's Agatha Christie whodunit, Evil Under the Sun (1982). Peter Ustinov stars as Hercule Poirot, but Debra Winger does the detecting in James Bridges's underrated Mike's Murder (1984), when the tennis coach she has a crush on mysteriously disappears.

The refusal of Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) to play tennis at Windy Corner with Freddy (Rupert Graves) and George Emerson (Julian Sands) prompts Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) to break off her engagement in James Ivory's exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room With a View (1985). However, the court in the Summer Street back garden can't compare to the one purpose-built for Pu Yi (John Lone) in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), which won nine Oscars, including Best Picture.

A still from Emma (2020)
A still from Emma (2020)

Thanks to the good folks at Industrial Light & Magic, the ball seems to have a mind of its own, as the devilish Jack Nicholson plays a game of doubles with Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon in George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick (1987). And trickery is also to the fore, as a cat and a dog watch an unseen Chevy Chase playing tennis against a wall in John Carpenter's The Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). The game doesn't appeal to Cher (Alicia Silverstone), Dionne (Stacey Dash), and Amber (Elisa Donovan), who make it clear to games teacher Millie Stoeger (Julie Brown) that they have no intention of hitting the balls being fizzed past their noses by a serving machine in Clueless (1995), Amy Heckerling's inspired reworking of Jane Austen's 'Emma' (although there's no sign of any summer sports in Douglas McGrath's 1996 or Autumn DeWilde's 2020 versions of the 1815 novel).

Tennis impinged upon a couple of age-gap dramas in the 1990s. Ailing psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Marielle made a play for coach Emmanuelle Seigner in Claude Miller's Le Sourire (1994), while Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) tries to teach Dolores Haze (Dominique Swain) the rudiments of the game in Adrian Lyne's Lolita, which followed Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version in adapting an enduringly controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov, who was a keen tennis player. There's more courting on the court, as political aide Janeane Garofalo is sent to a small Irish town to find Massachusetts contender Jay O. Sanders some relations from the old country and winds up falling for Ballinagra club coach David O'Hara in Mark Joffe's The Matchmaker (both 1997).

The sight of his wealthy and unobtainable heart's desire playing tennis on her family's clay court prompts Dominic Palazollo (Joe Dinicol) to take drastic steps in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999). The commentators have no idea why tennis pro Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) commits 72 unforced errors and removes his shoes and one sock before serving underarm during a match at Windswept Fields in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). But, then, they know nothing of Richie's attachment to adopted sister Margot (Gwyeneth Paltrow), who is seated in the friends and family box with new husband, Raleigh St Clair (Bill Murray).

Tennis is just one of the many things Kieran Culkin is rebelling against when he decides to break the hold of domineering mother Susan Sarandon in Burr Stears's Tannenbaumesque Igby Goes Down. The simmering animosity between Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) and June Carver (Alicia Witt) makes things uncomfortable for boss George Wade (Hugh Grant) during the on-court showdown in Marc Lawrence's Two Weeks Notice. There's even room for a spot of tennis amidst all of the lustful confusion involving Paz Vega and Natalia Verbeke and their menfolk in Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's The Other Side of the Bed (all 2002).

Silvia Rossi and Max Parodi work up a sexual appetite during a friendly game of tennis in erotica auteur Tinto Brass's Private. But it's not always easy to spot the sporting connection, as in the case of Robert Benton's adaptation of Philip Roth's The Human Stain (2003). But trust us, there's a tennis player lurking in the background, as is true in Ira Sachs's Forty Shades of Blue, which sees ageing rock producer Rip Torn hide out at a Memphis tennis club from Russian wife Dina Korzun and adult son Darren E. Burrows. Tennis also plays its part in the rivalry between sports magazine employees Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace in Paul Weitz's In Good Company (both 2004).

Promising tennis player Tobias Schencke swaps places with his identical twin in East Berlin in Carsten Fiebeler's Kleinruppin Forever (2004), which formed part, along with Wolfgang Becker's Goodbye, Lenin! (2004), of the Ostalgie wave in the reunified Germany. Tensions between Jeff Daniels and wife Laura Linney are evident from their tennis court interaction in Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale (2005), while Tati the dog can barely bring himself to watch as Russell Crowe and Didier Bourdon assume the guises of 1930s legends Fred Perry and René Lacoste for their epic tussle on a dusty clay court in Ridley Scott's adaptation of Peter Mayle's bestseller, A Good Year (2006).

A still from Confetti (2006)
A still from Confetti (2006)

Tennis enthusiasts Stephan Mangan and Meredith MacNeill opt for a racquet-themed wedding in Debbie Isitt's Confetti (2006), while Jessica Stevenson and Martin Freeman plump for something a little more Busby Berkeley and nudists Olivia Coleman and Robert Webb decide to go entirely au naturel. While out on his first pollen-collecting expedition in New York, Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) learns that there are worse things than getting stuck to a bouncy yellow 'flower' on a downtown tennis court in Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner's DreamWorks animation, Bee Movie (2007).

Three off-limits titles are worth mentioning next. Sean Faris has a fight on his hands after being forced to move to Orlando, Florida after his younger brother wins a tennis scholarship in Jeff Wadlow's Never Back Down (2008), while an attempt is made to cover up the discovery of three corpses floating in a pool in the gated community more accustomed to tennis and dinner parties in Marcelo Piñeyro's The Widows of Thursdays (2009). Equally exclusive, The Hamptons provides the backdrop for Edward Burns's Nice Guy Johnny (2010), which sees free-spirited tennis coach Kerry Bishé coerce aspiring radio presenter Matt Bush into reassessing his cosy existence.

While these are unlikely to make it to disc in the UK, there are still thousands of titles on offer from Cinema Paradiso on high-quality DVD, Blu-ray and 4K. Among them is Luc Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010), a spin-off from a popular comic strip by Jacques Tardi that follows the eponymous heroine (Louise Bourgoin) after her sister is left in a coma after a freak tennis accident. Injury also seems likely, as Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) and Helen Harris (Rose Byrne) are so driven by their rivalry to prove a better friend to bride-to-be Lillian Donovan (Maya Rudolph) that they thunder shots at each other in the wince-inducing tennis scene in Paul Feig's Bridesmaids (2011).

When a tennis player is seriously injured in a car crash, nurse Aggeliki Papoulia takes her place in a one-sided match in a bid to help the grieving cope in Yorgis Lanthimos's Alps (2011). After his wife leaves him, Colin Farrell is taken to a hotel in the Greek director's satire, The Lobster (2015), where people have 45 days to find a mate or be turned into an animal. Among the rules is one stating that couples can play tennis, but singletons have to sign up for golf. The need to find a partner also prompts tennis player Chirag Paswan to pretend he's in love with a model in Tanweer Khan's Bollywood hit, Miley Naa Miley Hum (2011).

Echoes of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) can be felt in Park Chan-wook's Stoker (2013). However, India (Mia Wasikowska) takes an instant dislike to her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) and refuses to play tennis with him and her mother (Nicole Kidman), as he is wearing her recently deceased father's old whites. Alarm bells should also be ringing for Oxford academic Ewan McGregor, when he pals up with Russian oligarch Stellan Skarsgård over tennis and drinks in Morocco in Susanna White's John Le Carré adaptation, Our Kind of Traitor (2016).

A tennis court helps Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman) explain their patented food preparation process to milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) in John Lee Hancock's burger bar origins story, The Founder. Tennis and pool are among the leisure activities at a 'men only' getaway in Marco Berger and Marco Farina's Taekwondo (both 2016), a typically astute outing from Argentina's premier queer film-maker. Life is all dinner parties and tennis with the small-town élite for 1970s Argentinian lawyer Darío Grandinetti in Benjamin Naishtat's Rojo (2018). But his privileged lifestyle comes under threat when Chilean TV detective Alfredo Castro comes to investigate an argument in a restaurant.

Another couple that should really be on disc to end with. Ryan Eggold's indie oddity, Literally, Right Before Aaron (2017) follows sore loser Adam (Justin Long) to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, Allison (Cobie Smulders), where he challenges groom Aaron (Ryan Hansen) to a tennis match, even though he sucks at the game and his rival could be a pro. Vincent Lacoste plays a much nicer character in Michaël Hers's Amanda (2018), as he finds himself caring for his seven year-old niece (Isaure Multrier) after her mother is killed in a terrorist attack. As a treat, they travel to Wimbledon to watch the tennis, although she might have had more fun on the Common, with the delightful creations of children's author Elisabeth Beresford who were voiced by Bernard Cribbins in The Wombles: Orinoco and the Big Black Umbrella (1975) and brought to full-size life alongside a splendid human cast in Lionel Jeffries's Wombling Free (1977).

A still from Rojo (2018)
A still from Rojo (2018)
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