This fall, the Fox Searchlight film Battle of the Sexes debuted. Starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, a pivotal event in tennis history is brought back by the big screen, highlighting the 1973 tennis match between world number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs. The historical tennis event caught the attention of many, sparking a global conversation on gender equality and making a mark on the feminist movement.
A movie capturing some of the greatest tennis ever played demanded serious talent on the court. That is when the opportunity to play a role in Battle of the Sexes came about for Fidan Manashirova, who played tennis for Ohio State.
Manashirova graduated from The Ohio State University in 2013 as a four-year letterwinner for the Buckeyes. She ended her career with the Scarlet and Gray with 89 singles wins, currently ranking eighth in career singles victories, and captured 64 career doubles wins.
Manashirova currently resides in Venice Beach, California, where she works in sales for Hourglass Cosmetics, a worldwide luxury cosmetic company. Besides working, she still plays tennis and has picked up paddle tennis.
“Paddle tennis is extremely popular on the west coast and a casual game that is easy to pick up and play right by the ocean,” Manashirova said. “It’s basically a smaller version of tennis. You play with paddle racquets and tennis balls. You just have to deflate the tennis balls a little.”
Growing up in L.A., Manashirova has constantly been in and around the Hollywood atmosphere. She described the countless opportunities that arise from friends and connections she has made over the years such as being an extra on a commercial, film or music video. It is with those good connections that an acquaintance of hers, Vince Spadea, a former professional tennis player, contacted her with a casting opportunity in Battle of the Sexes.
“[Vince] is now a manager out in L.A. and reaches out to me pretty frequently,” Manashirova said. “When the opportunity with the film came about, I didn’t know much about it, how big it was, who was involved, or anything.”
She eventually found out more details about the movie, learning it was starring Emma Stone, who would need a stunt double for the tennis scenes because she had never played before. Manashirova agreed and auditioned for the part of Stone’s stunt double. After the completion of the audition, it was decided her body measurements didn’t add up. However, she was presented a new opportunity.
“After I auditioned for [the stunt double role], the producers told me that they were looking for real tennis players to portray actual characters based off of the women in Billie Jean’s clan, when the women involved in her team pretty much separated themselves from the USLTA and became the nine.”
Manashirova was extremely excited about the offer, because she would now be playing a real character instead of just a body double.
As time moved forward and her role was officially defined, she was introduced to other girls playing alongside her. Manashirova found truth to the saying ‘it’s a small world’ as she knew all three of the other cast members.
“I found out there were three other girls who were cast to play tennis players, all of who I happened to know from junior tennis,” Manashirova said. “One of them was Ashley Weinhold. She didn’t play in college, but she plays in the professional circuit. Another girl, Lauren Kline, I also knew from junior tennis very well and she played at Furman. Kaitlyn Christian, I knew even better than the first two, since she played at USC in L.A.”
The four cast for tennis playing roles were fairly new to the filming side of Hollywood. Where it was easy to feel like rookies, they quickly learned they in fact were the experts on a lot of topics during filming.
“It was a really cool experience because we were almost the real ‘experienced’ ones on set in terms of tennis; none of the actors really had done anything like that before,” Manashirova said. “Steve Carell plays frequently, but just for fun. He was the only one that kind of knew how to play. But, he looked to us for tips and questions like, ‘Are we holding the racquet correctly?’.”
The filming took place all over Los Angeles, which worked extremely well for Manashirova. One of her favorite places she had the opportunity to film was at Billie Jean King’s Long Beach Tennis Center.
“It was a really special moment and something I will always cherish,” Manashirova said.
The filming for the movie was in May 2016 and she spent five to six weeks filming. After everything was said and done, Manashirova mentioned she loved every second of the experience.
When asked if she would do something like this again, she was excited to say yes.
“Absolutely. Absolutely! If anybody needs tennis players to be portrayed, I will do it!”
Manashirova was invited to the Battle of the Sexes premiere night, but was unable to attend. She had previously booked a vacation to Italy and on the night of the premier was actually on a plane to Europe.
Now that Battle of the Sexes is officially wrapped up, Manashirova is continuing her work with Hourglass and awaiting any new opportunities that come her way.
In the meantime, she is cheering on the Buckeyes, especially tennis.
“Just seeing our program do so extremely well under a coach that I played under, Melissa Schaub, is incredible,” Manashirova said. “I am happy for them and continuously following along. I am really excited about the future, I think they are very close to winning a national championship.”
While Manashirova follos the current Buckeyes, they know one place to find their alum - on the big screen.
Written by Mariah Haitz, Ohio State Athletics Communications student