Kidambi Srikanth v Lakshya Sen.
Clash of attackers. Tussle for control at the net. Contest between generations. Incumbent going up against the guy-in-waiting. A World Championship semifinal that runs rich in labels, bragging rights and opens up the doorway for only one to fight for gold.
Only two Indian men's singles players have medaled before this, both bronze - Prakash Padukone in 1983 and Sai Praneeth two years ago. This will be the first time that there will be an Indian male finalist.
Lakshya, a debutant at the Worlds, has never been on a stage like this before. Even Srikanth's deepest run at a major tournament was the 2016 Rio Olympics quarterfinals. Four Supers Series titles, a fleeting stay as world No 1 were followed by a run of early exits and a missed 2020 Olympics. He's been growing a little tired of his past and is happy to skip references to his title glut from four years ago.
Srikanth's recent resurgence has been episodic, peppered through tournaments over the last couple of months. A three-game fight against former world No 1 Kento Momota at the French Open and a Hylo Open semifinal contest against reigning All England champion Lee Zii Jia, were among the earliest, most enduring signs. Srikanth had just six days between the World Tour Finals in Bali and the World Championships in Huelva, Spain, to rush back to India and run around for a Schengen visa. He played his opening match this week almost right after getting off the plane.
Lakshya's father, DK Sen, who has been traveling with him for the run of recent tournaments, was coach of the Indian side which traveled to Brunei for the 2008 Sub-junior Asian Championships. Thirteen-year old Srikanth was part of that team, in his first international tournament. Today at 28, Srikanth is still chasing that one big win. He's almost there, with a World Championship medal assured.
His jump smashes and follow ups at the nets are among the best in business and his game has always scored high for its sheer control. He hasn't been tested all week, barring a three game battle against Li Shifeng. Against his FIFA partner Lakshya, he could very well be pushed to play his most entertaining match of the week. It could be marked by a flurry of attacks from both ends, flat exchanges, with the net likely to be the most crucial piece of real estate.
At a Worlds where Saina Nehwal didn't turn up and PV Sindhu left in the quarterfinals, it's the Indian men who will be bringing the medals home. A bronze medal at his first-ever Worlds tucked away, Lakshya will have nothing to lose. Srikanth could feel the nerves tugging at him and it's his chance to turn resurgence into deliverance.