ROME -- With the release of the Luca Guadagnino-directed, Zendaya-starring "Challengers" last month, tennis is having its most significant pop culture moment in a long while.

The film opened to both critical acclaim -- an aggregate score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes -- and commercial success, raking in $52.2m worldwide to date. And more than that, it's managed to set the zeitgeist beyond the world of cinema. In its wake, fashion writers have heralded the advent of "tenniscore" this summer, aided by Zendaya referencing iconic looks by the Williams sisters in photoshoots. Not only the film's leading actress but its co-producer, she is now increasingly talked of as a "heavyweight" and "powerhouse."

Former player Laura Robson, who is currently in Rome as part of Wimbledon's international player relations team, has no doubt about why it's been such a hit.

"Tennis is made to look quite sexy," she said. "Everyone's got a great tan. Lots of sweaty closeups."

But what does the tennis world make of it? It's piqued the interest of the tour, but there's some understandable trepidation. As Robson puts it: "There have been a few ropey tennis movies. I was never a huge 'Wimbledon' fan."

Naomi Osaka also kept her expectations low. "I take all tennis movies in stride," the former World No.1 said after her first-round win. But both Osaka and Robson were pleasantly surprised -- not least because the film nailed the look and the vibe of the tennis world.

Osaka enjoyed its depiction of the tennis lifestyle -- the parade of anonymous hotels, the peek into real tournament facilities -- and was impressed that the film focused on lower-level Challengers, not just the Grand Slams. Robson singled out the attention to detail.

"The fact that the outfits and the equipment were all relevant to that time period," she said. "Someone obviously took a lot of care with that. The fact that Mike Faist [who plays Grand Slam champion Art] was head-to-toe in Uniqlo, but Josh O'Connor [who plays Patrick, who has spent his career in Challengers] was wearing four different sponsors."

Coco Gauff, a fan of the love triangle at the heart of the plot, agreed that the film was meticulous when it came to making the tennis world look realistic.

"The MVP definitely goes to the people who designed the set," the 2023 US Open champion said. "I feel like that was the most accurate when it came to the signage and the logos and all of that."

The catalyst for the plot -- a slumping Art drops down to a Challenger tournament to find match wins and confidence -- also rings true. That's exactly what 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin did last week. On a nine-match losing streak, she entered the WTA 125 in Lleida, Spain, where she ended her drought to reach the second round.

"I wanted to use it as match play," Kenin said after her first-round win over Lucia Bronzetti in Rome. "I didn't go in with expectations, and I got a win, even though I didn't feel 100%. And I did feel it helped me here."

Indeed, it's provided the boost Kenin needed to turn around her season. She followed up the Bronzetti win with an upset of No.8 seed Ons Jabeur in the second round, her first Top 10 victory of the year.

Less accurate in "Challengers" were the actual scenes of matches and practice. "If we talk about specific tennis stuff, for a professional tennis player it was quite painful to watch," Daria Kasatkina said.

Gauff's coach Brad Gilbert was hired by the film -- and has a cameo in it -- to help make those scenes look somewhat plausible. But Robson points out that full realism was never a likely prospect.

"You're never going to have an actress who can hit the ball like Aryna Sabalenka," she said. "It would be weird if that was the case."

Creative directing of those scenes, such as shots from the perspective of a moving ball, help sidestep that issue in the film. More importantly, as Gauff and Robson agree, "Challengers" is convincing on an emotional level in terms of how the pressures of professional sport drive its characters.

"I'm not Tashi Duncan," Gauff said with a laugh, referring to Zendaya's character -- a former junior champion, hungry to win at all costs, who becomes Art's wife and manager when injury cuts her career short. "And I don't know any Tashi Duncans. But I did relate to her mentality on the court. Also there's a part of the movie -- I told my boyfriend, 'Thank God you don't play tennis.' Because she's right, I would not want to date a scrub on tour."

Gauff may not know any specific Tashi Duncans, but as former player, Andrea Petkovic pointed out in a recent Guardian article, "the three main characters are very specific tennis archetypes." The slumping major winner whose enthusiasm for the sport is waning. The lower-ranked player from a monied background whose talent isn't matched by hunger to win; the injured junior star who channels her frustration into her relationships, both with the sport and with her lovers.

Robson, who has interviewed the cast, says that they took inspiration from specific professionals.

"Patrick was inspired by Nick Kyrgios a bit, with the attitude on court," she said. "Josh O'Connor was saying he took inspiration from reactions after points, throwing racquets and stuff. When I was watching it, I thought Art was an Andre Agassi prototype -- someone who was very good and had done all the right things, but didn't necessarily want to be there all the time and wasn't a huge fan of the sport."

Even more relevant is Robson's own career. The Wimbledon junior champion in 2008 at the age of 14, she reached a career high of No.27 in 2013 but was forced to retire in 2018 after battling wrist and hip problems. 

"When they contacted me, they said, 'You have so many similarities -- you also had a career-ending injury,'" she said, groaning. "I was like, 'Oh, great.'"

Like Gauff, Robson distances herself from Tashi Duncan, whom she describes as "not likeable at all." But she acknowledges that there are parallels. Like Tashi, Robson has continued to work in tennis, throwing herself into multiple roles. As well as her player relations job, she's a successful commentator and tournament director (of Nottingham). And that is a point where the Tashi character resonates with her.

"I want to be great at everything I do," Robson said with sudden firmness. "Playing tennis professionally, you learn how to work really hard, because you don't have much of a choice. You learn how to make things happen for you, because it is such an individual sport. You have your team, but it's still you that it revolves around, and if you're not pushing yourself, no one can do that for you."

Those are lines that could have been spoken by Tashi Duncan herself.