In reviewing any movie about romance between tennis players, it would be a cheap cliché to invoke the word love over and over. But the more apt tennis term to describe “Challengers” is fault. As in “this whole mess is the fault of director Luca Guadagnino.”

The story revolves around Zendaya’s character, Tashi, a talented young college player who’s popular with fans and advertisers — and her tennis scenes are the only ones that look authentic. The two guys she gets involved with are Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor), who are both pretty good players trying to work their way up the success ladder in tournaments. Tashi seems to like them both, but keeps manipulating their affections in an almost cruel way. Of course, that doesn’t deter either of the hyper-competitive guys out to win her.

Unfortunately, Guadagnino has taken what should have been a relatively simple story of a love triangle between three tennis players and botched it in so many ways I only have space to explain a few to you.

The worst of these is a phenomenon far too commonplace in movies of recent years — the constant switching between time periods. We see one scene that looks like it takes place today, then we’re swept back to something that happened thirteen weeks ago, then two years ago, then eight weeks later, and on and on. This non-linear storytelling technique is more painful to sit through than if you hit yourself in the head with a tennis racket repeatedly.

In the tennis scenes, Guadagnino doesn’t have a camera at one end of the court, showing the action the way we’re used to seeing it on TV. Instead, He has the camera shooting from the side while swooping back and forth between the players, making it impossible to follow the action. In addition to those bad visuals, my wife — who has played and still watches a lot of televised tennis — commented that the sound of the ball and racket coming together didn’t sound right, either, in a classic display of bad foley work.

The director made other bad choices, like forcing us to watch the three stars walking down a hall in slow motion for no reason. Or making the last couple of points of a match take fifteen minutes in a desperate attempt to create tension. I’ve seen NBA games where the last couple of minutes went by more quickly.

The soundtrack by the usually-reliable Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was incredibly annoying, too. They either listened to too many Kraftwerk albums in the 70s or attended too many EDM concerts recently, because they filled “Challengers” with pounding synth pop which often drowns out the dialogue.

What would I suggest you watch for a better tennis-viewing experience than “Challengers?” There’s Emma Stone and Steve Carrell in “Battle Of The Sexes” (which I reviewed here) or “King Richard” (which I reviewed here) or the documentaries “Borg vs. McEnroe” and “Citizen Ashe.” Or the Netflix series, “Break Point.” Or just watch the single tennis scene from Hitchcock’s “Strangers On A Train,” which isn’t actually about the game but is still more fun than “Challengers.”

Until today, “Suncoast” (which I gave a 2 out of 10 in February) was the leader in the race for Worst Movie Of 2024. But “Challengers” has replaced it by earning a mere 1 out of 10.

I would have given it a zero if it were not for the pleasure of watching Zendaya work. Not her character. Just her.