Stan Wawrinka has high praise for his friend Alex Zverev, but also an idea on how to beat him in a U.S. Open rematch

At age 21, he won his second Masters 1000 title of the year in Singapore, and that all-important No. 1 ranking.

“He’s definitely one of the best tennis players in the world today,” praised Stan Wawrinka at a press conference on Monday night. “I think he’s a great, great player.”

Playing in his first Masters 1000 event, Zverev came away with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over world No. 4 Wawrinka to claim the title at the year-end World Tour Finals in London.

At that age, Wawrinka had been involved in his first ATP World Tour Finals, and a tournament the Swiss was in a great position to win in 2013, when he eked out a tight final-set win over Rafael Nadal at the O2 Arena in London.

Wawrinka won the championship that year and earned a career-high No. 2 ranking in 2013. He did not reach his career high again until 2014, when he won the French Open. After another offseason spent rebuilding his body, a wrist injury kept Wawrinka out of action in 2015. But he’s healthy again and making waves again.

“I think [Alex Zverev] is really going to be the favorite for the whole season,” Wawrinka said. “From what I see, he will have something special on the tour, and he will be fighting to win the titles. He has this mentality and his game fits every year very well.”

Ranked 23rd, Zverev enters 2018 with ample opportunity to crack the top 5 for the first time in his career. He established himself as the next-generation superstar of men’s tennis with his incredible 2018 – which also includes being the breakout star at the U.S. Open, when he won his first career grand slam title. But what makes him even more intriguing is that he’s capable of dominating the top ranks of the sport. He had just made his way to the French Open final – where he was in the lead from start to finish before falling to Nadal – before slipping to a third-round loss at Wimbledon.

This year’s hardest victory for Zverev will likely have to be this one over Wawrinka. Zverev and Wawrinka are now mates – they’re not friends like Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal are – but they’re also healthy. Zverev beat Wawrinka in straight sets at the 2017 U.S. Open. But Wawrinka is hitting like he has never hit before – he had lost two consecutive finals entering the 2017 U.S. Open, and he came into the title match in an overall tailspin. He was also dealing with a pesky wrist injury. But when he’s at his best, he’s extremely tough to beat.

“He’s always an amazing fighter. We’ve played many times. He always plays like he can win,” said Zverev. “I think he’s a tricky guy with great serve. So I’m going to prepare myself well. This is a great moment. This is a great match on a big stage and I have to do well here.”

Now, the championship round is the next step in Zverev’s quest to make history. Since 2004, the player who wins the year-end tournament has claimed the title at the U.S. Open three times – the year following the ATP World Tour Finals. And the winner of the year-end tournament has now won the U.S. Open once.

“I have a chance to be a guy who wins it three years in a row,” Zverev said. “It’s definitely something I want to do. That’s the goal for this season.”

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