When the 2024 India Open draws were announced last month, all eyes in men's singles were glued on the likes of world No 1 Viktor Axelsen, reigning world champion Kunlavut Vitidsarn, India's best bet HS Prannoy and others.

Lee Cheuk Yiu was on nobody's list. Not even as a dark horse.

But the Hong Kong shuttler has taken the Super 750 event in New Delhi by storm, registering three stunning victories against some of the biggest names in the sport.

The first big name was former world No 1 Kidambi Srikanth. And still Lee went under the radar. Probably because of the forgetful 2023 season he endured.

Out of the 25 BWF tour events he competed in, he won no titles, but lost in the first round 11 times and crashed in the second five times.

As much as the focus was on the errors Srikanth committed, Lee’s exceptional display to bounce back from 7-11 in the first game to win 24-22, 21-13 went largely unnoticed.

Up next was Vitidsarn. Once again, all bets were stacked against the Lee, 27, who had lost all his previous three matches against the Thai player.

Lee trailed by a big margin in both the second and third games, but pulled off a 16-21, 22-20, 23-21 win to stun the reigning world champion. It was a win that had heads turn his way and take note.

“I just kept telling myself to keep going, keep going, keep going [while trailing],” Lee said in the mixed zone after his match.

On Friday, Lee would prove the win against Vitidsarn was no fluke as he went on to take down world No 4 and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Anthony Ginting of Indonesia in yet another marathon battle. The Hong Kong athlete prevailed 21-17, 18-21, 13-21 in a contest that lasted 65 minutes.

Lee not only made use of the prevailing conditions to his advantage, but also pushed his body to the hilt to topple Ginting for the third time in five meetings between the pair.

“Today I was really tired,” he said after the match. “I just told myself not to think about the body and think only about the game.”

That has indeed been the mantra for Lee, who last won a World Tour title way back in 2019 in front of his home crowd at the Hong Kong Open Super 500. Incidentally, he defeated Srikanth and Ginting in the semi-final and final respectively for the top spot on the podium then.

However, the shuttler made headlines for an entirely different reasons at the time. Right after his first round win, Lee celebrated with a open palm in one hand and a raised finger in the other to show his support of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, which was at its peak at the time.

However, as the Covid-19 pandemic struck just a month later, the protest fizzled out. So did Lee's career graph.

There was a third place finish at the Indonesia Masters in just three tournaments he played in 2020, a similar result at the 2021 Denmark Open, and the 2022 French Open. With displays like this, he was slowly getting written off as a favourite at events.

It was not until the the 2023 Thailand Open in June that the world No 18 would play another final, where he sustained one of his three losses against Vitidsarn. He reached yet another final five months later at the 2023 Hylo Open but once again finished second best – this time to Chou Tien Chen.

Though 2023 saw him lose in the first round 11 times, it was still a better year, which goes to show how bad his form has been.

But despite what he hopes will be a start of a strong run in 2024, he insists that his physical preparation during the off-season had not changed one bit. It was all “mental.”

“I think the last few months, I have focused just on myself and what I am doing,” said Lee.

“Just don't think too much. I trust my coach... we trust each other and work hard in training. I just do what I have to do. Do not think about other things and do not care about anything else.”

The training is indeed paying rich dividends for Lee in Delhi as he harbors the hope to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. He is currently placed 15th in the Olympic Games Qualification rankings – the top 16 qualify.

For now, he has a job on his hands in Delhi. He has gotten this far in the tournament. He has started to sense a title win. Coming up next is a clash against world No 6 Kodai Naraoka.