By Nick Carter
Tennis has very rarely gotten the Hollywood treatment. Until the 2010s, the most well-known film about the sport was Wimbledon, a 2004 romantic comedy starring Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany. In recent years, however, movies have been made based on the incredible true stories that have come from the sport. Movies like Battle of the Sexes, Borg vs McEnroe and most recently King Richard have all been released to varying success. King Richard has of course received much critical acclaim which is nice to see. Just for fun, however, let’s pitch the ultimate tennis sports movie that, whilst completely fictional, is based loosely on some real-life stories. Whilst this will be pretty generic, I hope that the actual tennis elements will be compelling.
The movie opens with a black screen, and all that can be heard is a tennis ball being hit: the sound of the ball hitting the strings, then bouncing on the surface. It’s not the echo-y sound from a stadium but the quiet thunk-thunk you’ll hear on a practice court.
Now the camera opens and we see two male tennis players but they aren’t on a practice court. It’s a match court but with only a handful of spectators. The two are in a neutral rally, neither really going for it. Both men are tense. The camera focuses on their eyes. In the end, one puts a ball in the middle of the court, and the other sees his chance. The camera goes to slow motion, as we see his feet adjust to make sure he is in the right position. His eyes zone in on the ball and his right hand takes his racquet back. We return suddenly to normal speed as he hits through his forehand and hits a blazing winner up the line. The umpire calls “Game, Set and Match Lloyd.” The winner celebrates by quietly punching the air, then runs forward to congratulate his opponent at the net.
Cut to the man in the locker room. He is stretching, making sure to properly recover. He has a shower. Then, once dressed, he collects his kit and makes his way back to his hotel room. Once there, he sits on the bed, scrolling through his phone. We flash back to when he was a kid, holding a tennis racquet, hitting balls, big smile on his face. Cut back to the hotel room. The man is not smiling now.
We see the player do his morning routine: stretching, going to the gym, then heading back to the courts. He takes to the court again. A quick play montage ensues, and it’s clear this is not his day. We see him frustrated as he’s not reaching balls in time or he’s missing ones coming off his own racquet. He goes to shake his opponent’s hand, who is doing a quiet fist pump himself. We then see much the same routine again.
The difference from the previous night is that this time, the player is in a bar, drinking beer. He’s joined by a friend, who is pleased to see him but commiserates him for his loss. The Friend asks the Player where his next tournament is. The Player says Phoenix in two weeks, he needs to go home for a bit first. The Friend says he has an extra ticket for a concert the following night and he should go with him.
The guys go to a concert the following night and get talking with a couple of women in line with them. The conversation gets to jobs. The two women, Bonnie and Cara, work as a teacher and a junior account manager at a PR Company respectively. The Friend, Pete, says he’s a physiotherapist. Cara asks the Player, Lewis, what he does. Lewis replies he is a tennis player. Bonnie asks if he’s famous, Lewis just laughs and says no.
The new group have a great time (cue concert/music montage), after which they head to a bar. Pete and Bonnie get a drink, leaving Cara and Lewis at a table. Cara asks him more about tennis, and Lewis explains that he’s been playing since he was five years old. He turned pro aged 17, and is now playing on the Challenger Tour. Cara asks if he’s played at Wimbledon, and Lewis confirms he has. Cara asks if he’ll be at the U.S. Open this year and Lewis says probably not as his ranking is outside the top 250.
The next day, Pete and Lewis are heading back to their home. Pete is pretty upbeat but Lewis just seems tired. They touch back down and are picked up by another friend, Jonny. As they are driven to where they need to go, they travel past a tennis court, which Lewis looks out the window at, triggering another childhood flashback to happier days on the court.
Jonny is hosting a barbeque at his home for his friends. During the reunion, Lewis admits he’s thinking of quitting tennis. He says he hasn’t been the same since what happened and he doesn’t have it any more. Pete and Jonny persuade him to keep going until at least the U.S. Open. Pete then takes Lewis to the old tennis courts and they hit together. The old friends get talking when packing up, Pete saying he was so proud of his friend for making it pro and offers to join him in the summer swing.
At the Phoenix Challenger, Lewis is playing well and reaches the final. When he arrives on court for the Championship match, he is surprised to see Cara in the stands. Lewis doesn’t start well though, going 4-0 down in the opening set. He’s making silly unforced errors. His opponent having just held, he now must serve. Just behind him, he hears “Come on Lewis!” He makes a first serve and then finishes the point with a forehand. Lewis quietly shakes his fist, and the fightback is on. He eventually wins the match and the title 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. As he is holding the trophy, he breaks down in tears.
After the event, Cara catches up with Lewis and explains one of her clients was a sponsor of the event and so she got tickets through them. She admits she looked him up on Google and says she had no idea how big a deal he really was. It is revealed Lewis Lloyd was a very promising player at the start of his career. He reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open aged 18, won a couple of ATP 500s and reached the final of the Shanghai Masters. Cara said she watched highlights on YouTube of his matches, and was mesmerised by the things tennis players could do with a ball. Lewis asks her if she also saw what happened and Cara says she watched that too. Shortly after turning 21, Lewis played Wimbledon but slipped during a match and severely injured his knee. He was rehabbing for almost a year, as every comeback had a false dawn. By the time he did come back, he had been out too long to keep a protected ranking and the wildcards quickly dried up as he kept exiting in first rounds. Now he is close to 25 and he’s still on the Challenger Tour. He admits to thinking the dream is over. Cara says today was the first time she had seen a tennis match in person, but she saw the magic and he was part of it. She suggests he’s not done yet and needs to see the magic for himself again.
Soon after, Lewis gets an email telling him he’s been given a wildcard into Indian Wells qualifying because of his recent Challenger results. He calls Pete to tell him, and his friend flies to California to join him. Lewis wins his opening match but then loses his next one. However, as he is leaving the locker room he’s approached by the Italian player Fabio Bianchi, who is ranked world number three. Bianchi is a multiple major champion but hasn’t won one for about two years. This is due to the world number one, Julian Meyer, being able to outhit him most times they play. Fabio saw Lewis playing on a live stream of the Phoenix Challenger and saw his forehand, and wants him to be his hitting partner for the week. Lewis agrees.
As they practice, Fabio gets Lewis to go for his forehand more and more. They enjoy their sessions together, both clearly having fun. Eventually Fabio realises he needs to take risks and attack the forehand wing if he is to beat Meyer. They meet in the final, and Fabio uses this tactic to win. After winning the title, he asks Lewis if there is anything he needs help with.
Lewis soon finds himself back in the top 200 and decides to travel to Europe. He begins building more results, eventually qualifying for an ATP event in Munich. Main draw appearances in Paris and Wimbledon are still out of reach, but he’s still hitting with Fabio. One day, after a practice session, Lewis is exhausted and asks Fabio why he’s been moving him around so much. Fabio explains that he noticed that movement was a critical weakness for Lewis, and he needs to reach balls quicker if he is use his forehand effectively. He’s a step slower than he was at 21 but even before the injury it was a problem. Lewis watches from the player box as Fabio is beaten in four sets by Meyer in the Wimbledon final.
On his return to the United States, Lewis goes to see Pete and Jonny. This time, Cara and Bonnie have been invited too and everyone has a great time. Cara offers to join Pete and Lewis on the US summer swing and they accept. Cara soon starts doing some admin for Lewis, allowing him to focus on tennis. He also starts giving her a little bit of coaching as she has picked up a racquet now. By now, Lewis is enjoying life more, as his friends are with him on and off the court. He wins another Challenger, getting himself into the top 120, and qualifies for the Cincinnati Masters. However, he loses in the first round 6-0, 6-1, also falling during the match. Pete, Cara and Fabio find him leaning against an outside court looking in. Lewis tells the story of how he used to do the same thing at his local courts, until a local coach offered to give him a free lesson. He loved the feel of the racquet in his hand, he loved feeling how he could make the ball spin in different ways and how in control he felt. We see this through flashbacks as well. Lewis knew then that playing tennis was what he wanted to do. He goes on to say days like today make him wonder why he did.
Fabio hands him a racquet and sends away Pete and Cara. Under the floodlights, with no-one watching, they just play. Fabio isn’t going for it; he’s playing to rally. Lewis does likewise, but the more he plays, the more into it he gets. Fabio doesn’t try to beat him, just match him. By the end, Lewis has a big smile on his face.
The trio of Lewis, Pete and Cara head to New York for the U.S. Open. Pete takes Lewis aside and asks if this is the last stop. Lewis says he doesn’t know where is next, but he will probably be playing pro tennis next year. This pleases Pete immensely. Lewis plays in qualifying and manages to get through. This makes headlines that a former American prodigy is returning to the U.S. Open, and suddenly Cara is having to help manage media commitments. Then Lewis is placed in the draw: his first-round match is against Julian Meyer. Now this being hyped as the biggest match of the opening day.
Lewis is nervous, he hasn’t played a US Open main draw match for two years. After an interview, Lewis and Cara manage to find a quiet moment away from the busyness. Cara tells Lewis that this has been the best summer she has ever had, and she doesn’t know where tennis has been all her life. Lewis says he’s glad she’s enjoyed it, prompting Cara to ask if he has too. The day before the match, Lewis and Fabio practice together. The night before, Lewis and Pete just relax together. They joke about how even if he loses, Lewis can afford to pay Pete for all the free physio he’s given over the years.
The scene shifts to Arthur Ashe stadium, at night. Lewis and Meyer are waiting to be introduced. Lewis walks on as the announcer excitedly announces him to the crowd, who receive him with loud cheers. Meyer by contrast gets a more muted reception, including some boos. Somehow, Lewis seems to relax, the cheers boosting him rather than making him nervous. He ends up serving second, and holds to love. It’s not long before Meyer has break points on his serve: 15-40, 1-2. Lewis serves an ace to save the first but then is forced to rely on a second serve on the next. They get into a rally, and Lewis’ improved movement allows him to chase down and scoop a ball back past his opponent. Lewis then holds for 2-2 and then immediately breaks the next game. Meyer was only briefly rattled, but doesn’t make much impact on the return the rest of the set, meaning Lewis takes it 6-4. Meyer comes out swinging in the next set though, and before he knows it Lewis is at a set all with the score 6-4, 2-6. The next set is more competitive, but Meyer breaks near the end and serves it out 6-3.
The crowd is now more muted, although some still try to will on the American underdog. Cara and Pete are still trying to cheer their man on, but both faces show they are not sure he can come back from this. At the change of ends, Lewis looks up at the floodlights, and remembers his hit with Fabio back in Cincinnati. He starts the set on his serve, and gets the first point. However, Meyer has clearly decided to break his spirit and gets it to 15-30 thanks to some brutal attacking play. Lewis decides to counter with unbelievable defence, just hitting everything he can to the Meyer backhand. He digs himself out and holds to 30. The two then tussle, the physicality level rising, both countering each other. Lewis begins visibly smiling, and his forehand is in the zone whenever he has a shot on it. The set goes to a tie-break, which remains 3-3 at change of ends. Both men hold the next two points, before Lewis hits an unbelievable winner to get the mini-break for 5-4. It’s tense, but he manages to serve out the tie-break and take it to a fifth set.
The atmosphere is now electric. It’s 10pm, they’ve been on court almost three hours. Meyer holds convincingly to start the set, then breaks Lewis immediately. Suddenly its 3-0 in the set and Meyer is three games away from winning yet another match. Lewis comes out and holds serve to get on the board. As he’s waiting to return in the next game, he’s suddenly focused as he’s gifted a second serve opportunity straight away. A cross court forehand return deep puts Meyer off balance and it’s 0-15. The German gets a first serve in next but Lewis blocks it back into play and they rally. Lewis goes for a big crosscourt forehand, attacking his opponent’s biggest weapon, and again this catches the number one off-guard and he nets. 0-30. Meyer wins the next point, but then makes an error going for an early winner in the following rally. 15-40. On break point, Lewis gets his return in play but Meyer is hitting to the backhand to prevent him getting his strength into play. Lewis just keeps the rally going, forcing Meyer to try to change direction and putting the ball into the tramlines. Suddenly, they’re back on serve. The crowd, in particular Pete and Cara, are roaring as loud as they can at the change of ends.
The match remains on serve until 5-5. The two players have been engaging in brutal cross-court forehand exchanges, both trying to break the other down. Both are sweating, breathing heavily between points. Meyer’s serve starts breaking down and Lewis capitalises, attacking the return. He earns a break point, but loses it when he tries to overthink and hit to the backhand instead. Lewis then goes game point down but then saves it. At the second deuce, Meyer gets a first serve in but somehow Lewis hits a slice forehand back that puts him off balance, netting. Another break point, and then the unthinkable happens: Meyer double faults. Now, Lewis is serving for the match at 6-5. After the changeover, he serves an ace and the crowd goes wild. But Meyer is not done, and he starts going for broke, hitting winners from nowhere. It wins him three points and its now 15-40. Lewis serves another ace to save the first, but the next point goes to a rally. Lewis manages to reach the attacking forehand from Meyer, scrambling it back short and the German comes into the net to finish. Lewis again manages to somehow reach the ball and hits a high lob that lands right on the baseline for a winner. Meyer cannot believe it and nets his return attempt on the next point. Now it’s match point for Lewis, for the biggest win of his career. He misses the first serve and has to rely on his second. Lewis serves, Meyer gets it back into play and Lewis decides to move his opponent around, forcing him to rally. In response, Meyer decides to hit a go-for-broke shot and it lands just out. The crowd roars, almost drowning the umpire out as he says “Game, Set and Match Lloyd”. Lewis breaks into a beaming smile, standing on the baseline taking it all in. Then, he runs to the net to shake hands. Having done this, and put his racquet down, Lewis turns to his box to see his friends screaming in elation, and he punches the air with both fists and roars in celebration. The camera freeze frames and fades to black as the credits roll and uplifting music plays.