Antetokounmpo and Tsitsipas carrying the Greek flag
AGONAsport compares the rises and successes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stefanos Tsitsipas, as both have quickly become global superstars.
It is hard to believe that a relatively small country of just 11 million people could produce two of the biggest rising stars in two of the world’s most popular sports. Even more impressive is that the Athens metro area, with a population of about 3.75 million, has produced these two guys that are less than four years apart in age.
Back when Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, few would have predicted just how far he’d come. He immediately made an impact in the NBA, being named to the All-Rookie Second Team in 2014. Since then, he has made big improvements every year. In 2017, he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player and was an All-Star for the first time in his career. Now, the past two years in a row, he has received the most All-Star fan votes of any player in the NBA other than LeBron James. Antetokounmpo is still only 24 years old and is already one of the best basketball players in the world, and most think he has the potential to be an all-time great.
Antetokounmpo has almost single-handedly transformed the Bucks into a top team in the NBA. In his first season (2013-14), he started most games on the bench, and the Bucks finished the season with the worst record in the league (15-67). Since then, he has been in the starting lineup for almost every game, and the Bucks have made the NBA Playoffs every year except once (2015-16). The Bucks currently have the best record in the league, and Antetokounmpo’s statistical progression is also very impressive. In his rookie season, he averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. By the conclusion of his third season, he increased these numbers to 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. In his fifth season (2017-18), he averaged a double-double with 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game. This season, Antetokounmpo is a serious contender for the MVP award and with 62 games played, he has recorded five triple-doubles and 43 double-doubles.
In 2016, Stefanos Tsitsipas was the number one junior (under 18) player in the world, but few realized just how good he would become over the next few years. As seen many times before, being a top junior player doesn’t guarantee future success on the professional tour. Being from a country like Greece with little financial support and an almost non-existent tennis federation, the odds were certainly against Tsitsipas. Nevertheless, after just one full year of playing professionally, the Greek found himself ranked 91 in the world after the 2017 season. By the end of 2018, he was ranked number 15 in the world. He is currently ranked 10th, and at just 20 years old, Tsitsipas also has the potential to become an all-time great in his sport.
However, it is not just Tsitsipas’ ranking progress that makes him stand out. He has beaten many big names, and has eight wins over top 10 players in his short time on tour. In Toronto last year, he beat four top 10 players in four consecutive days. At this year’s Australian Open, he beat two-time defending champion Roger Federer, eventually making it to the semifinals. Tsitsipas has won two ATP titles (three if you include the Next Generation ATP finals), and he has made another three finals (losing to Federer in one and Nadal in the other two). With a lack of young stars in men’s tennis, as no one born after 1988 has won a major singles title, 1998-born Tsitsipas could be the one to fill that void. This could be when the likes of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic retire, or possibly even sooner than that.
Aside from being Greek and both having been born and raised in the Athens metro area, Antetokounmpo and Tsitsipas have more in common than many would think. The two of them each have siblings that also play their sports. Antetokounmpo has his older brother Thanasis, as well as younger brothers Kostas and Alexis, all of whom play competitive basketball. He also has an older brother, Francis, who played professional football (soccer). Tsitsipas has two younger brothers, Petros and Pavlos, and a younger sister, Elisavet, and all of them play tennis.
Additionally, Antetokounmpo and Tsitsipas each have foreign connections. Antetokounmpo’s parents are from Nigeria, and he now spends most of his time in the United States. Tsitsipas’ father is Greek, but his mother is Russian. When he is not on tour, he is primarily based in France.
Antetokounmpo was recently asked about Tsitsipas, and the NBA star was full of praise for the tennis star. “Tsitsipas is really, really good at what he does. The sky’s the limit for him. At around 2020-2021, he is going to be one of the best tennis players in the world. We are going to have another Greek freak - in tennis,” he said.
It remains to be seen what heights Antetokounmpo and Tsitsipas will reach during their careers. One thing is for sure though, these two youngsters are “Greek Freaks” as Antetokounmpo said, and the sky’s the limit for both of them.