From being ranked 40, he climbed to No. 4 in the world following his All England triumph. And subsequently, plummeted to 156 following his loss at the 2002 All England and a six-month knee-injury lay-off.
Spearheading India to the final of the Thomas Cup team championships in the Delhi play-off (Feb 2000) was one high point. "To make the finals we had to overcome badminton superpower South Korea, strong Japan and Thailand. I must say I played a role in this as I won all my singles ties among other things. But the All England triumph will go down as one of my greatest moments. I was seeded 10th and people did not even give me a ghost of a chance. But I proved them wrong. I can recollect every moment even today. Right from when I beat Singapore's Ronald Susilo to the semi-final win over Peter Gade and Chen Hong in the final. It was like a dream I hoped no one would wake up from."
Reason for his decline
Gopi believes that drastic changes in the game's format immediately after the World Championships in Seville (2001) greatly affected his chances. Under the best of five format, with the game ending at seven, it is important for a player to get to a quick start.
"As I am a slow starter, it did not suit me at all. Moreover, I was 27 when I won the All England. If I was 17 or 18, the transition from the conventional 15-point format would have been much smoother. As if that was not enough, when I was just getting used to the five-game format and doing well, the IBF reversed it back to the conventional 15-point system.
“I do not know whether to term it bad luck or fate, but the frequent changes also affected my performances."
On the spate of injuries
He believes his attacking style made him more vulnerable to injuries. "Modern-day badminton is all about smashes and speed and in trying to sharpen my game I pushed myself too much." But the first injury he sustained was accidental.
In the 1994 Pune Nationals, he collided with teammate Vijayraghavan and damaged his left knee badly. He was out of action for six months and the knee became a constant trouble spot. Former All England champion Prakash Padukone concurs with Gopi.
"His style of play definitely made him more vulnerable. Unlike in my time (80s and 90s) where the emphasis was on deception and skill, during Gopi's time power was the sole ingredient. Unsurprisingly, the number of player injuries is much higher.
What ails Indian players
Talking straight, Gopi said Indian players had only themselves to blame. "One has to be very careful while playing at the international level. You cannot just keep playing tournaments abroad without a focus. One has to play a tournament on the basis of one's chances in terms of winning or improving rankings. Merely playing an increasing number of tournaments is not going to help. Also, if someone keeps on playing regularly at the international level, without making any significant progress, I think he is wasting his time."
Mentally toughness is another problem area. "To win tournaments abroad, it is not enough that you have a good game. You have to be mentally tough and believe in your ability to win against foreign players. It is like overcoming a mental block."