A Spanish musician and composer has made his directorial debut with the documentary "Unraveling Athena," a film that traces the path to stardom undertaken by a score of tennis' greatest female champions, including Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
By conducting interviews with these athletes and interweaving the threads of their different experiences, the film provides a glimpse into the sacrifices, fears, strengths and achievements that accompanied them on their journey from talented youngsters to the pinnacle of their sport.
"They're women who had very clear (goals), who knew exactly what they wanted," first-time director Francis Amat said in an interview with EFE in Miami, where the movie will premiere on Saturday in the United States at Indie Pasion, a leading Ibero-American independent film festival.
The director said a common theme emerged from the more than 40 hours of interviews he conducted with 19 former world No. 1s: all of them had an extraordinary will to achieve something that is "practically impossible," a level of perseverance that the "rest of us don't possess."
Amat, who wrote, produced, directed and composed the score for this one-hour, 23-minute documentary, said the key to these players' success has been their ability to regularly and quickly recharge themselves emotionally and overcome setbacks in their matches.
The female athletes featured in the documentary are among a select group of just over 25 players who have ascended to the No. 1 position of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), which American great Billie Jean King founded in 1973.
Although King never held the top spot (American great Chris Evert was the first player to be ranked No. 1 in November 1975), she racked up a whopping 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles during her illustrious career.
Sanchez Vicario, who is one of just two Spanish women to reach No. 1 along with Garbiñe Muguruza and is among the film's executive producers, agrees with Amat's assessment.
"We all belong to an elite club in which talent plays an important part, but perseverance, a fighting spirit, resistance, determination and passion for what we do are crucial to reaching the top," the 47-year-old Barcelona native, who won three Roland Garros titles and one US Open championship in the 1980s and 1990s, told EFE.
In that regard, Amat's film focuses not on these players' arrival at the top of their sport but on the "journey of becoming the women they are now or wanted to be."
Besides the aforementioned greats, the film also looks at the path to stardom of several other former women's tennis No. 1s in singles or doubles: Monica Seles, Caroline Wozniacki, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Pam Shriver, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Angelique Kerber and Tracy Austin.
It also drew upon 30 hours of interviews with a score of other figures in the tennis world, including coaches, commentators and agents.
Amat spent four and a half years bringing this project to fruition, although "Unraveling Athena" is just commencing the film festival circuit - having won the Best Edit in a Feature Film award at the Manchester Film Festival - and still needs to attract international distributors.
The process began after the 52-year-old Amat, who had spent nearly 30 years composing scores for television shows, documentaries and feature films, moved six years ago to Miami with the idea of taking his career in a new direction and fulfilling his desire to tell stories in a different way.
The project started to take shape after the composer met Sanchez Vicario by chance and the two struck up a friendship.
Amat ended up bombarding her with questions about tennis, and her answers led to a hypothesis - that she and all female tennis greats must have made the "same journey, in spite of their different circumstances, nationalities and generations."
"Unraveling Athena" seeks to explore that theme and restricts its focus to the WTA because, according to the rookie filmmaker, the stories of tennis' female champions are more interesting than those of their male counterparts.
Amat also saw a parallel in the journeys of these superstar athletes and the typical Hollywood narrative, which often depicts ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
This is the monomyth, or hero's journey, that late American author Joseph Campbell described in his influential work of comparative mythology titled "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," in which an ordinary person is called to an adventure and achieves success after overcoming a series of challenges and perils.
That is what the great women's tennis players all embarked upon, a type of hero's journey in which they sacrificed a piece of their childhood and adolescence and trained and competed at the highest level until they became champions, Amat said.
Sanchez Vicario says "Unraveling Athena" is an "inspiring story" that shows how the values fostered by sports - especially an individual pursuit like tennis - help to forge a person's character.