David Freeman was Never Beaten23 January, 2018
An article in the Programme of the 1974 All-England Championships discusses the question of who was the greatest singles player ever. It was written by "Unbiassed" whose identity is unknown, and the object was to compare Rudy Hartono with the great exponents of the past such as David Freeman and others.
On the subject of the great American player "Unbiassed" admits that "there are those who will forever believe that David Freeman was the best player the world has ever seen" - a statement of which the sentiments are quite right, in so far as singles play is concerned.
He goes on to refer to the All-England Championships of 1949, the only year in which Freeman competed, in which "he easily beat Wong Peng Soon in that final. Yet just before (or just after - memory fails) he lost to Wong Peng Soon in the final of the Danish Championships".
Freeman's incredible record deserves to have this statement corrected, for he was never beaten in singles after losing in 1939 at the immature age of 18, to the Canadian Thomas Cup player, H.K. Pollock, in the final of the New England Championships at Boston. A week later he won the first of his six consecutive United States singles championships without sustaining any defeat in any tournament in his country at all during that period.
The Thomas Cup contest was inaugurated in 1948-49, and Freeman was naturally the spearhead of the American team which, after defeating Canada at Pasadena, California, 8-1, came to Britain to further its challenge.
The first (and only, as it transpired) tie played by the United States was one of the most outstanding in interest of all time. It was against Malaya at Glasgow, and the Asians, largely by virtue of their doubles superiority, got home, 6-3, after which Malaya beat Denmark, 8-1 in the final tie at Preston, England.
His Fantastic All-England victories
There followed the All-England Championships. Freeman won the singles by a margin every bit as convincing as any of Hartono's successes, as can be seen by the detailed scores below.
David Freeman took the opportunity of his visit to England to take a medical course at one of the London hospitals, for he was to become a really well-known neuro surgeon, and during that time he played no Badminton at all except to compete in one weekend tournament at Bournemouth in the South of England. But he was invited to Copenhagen to play in the Danish Open Championships, a tournament which was exactly six weeks after his All-England triumph. He was, of course, much out of practice, but reached the singles semi-final without loss of a game.
He then came up against the great Malayans whom he had overwhelmed in Britain. It was one of these matches which "Unbiassed" refers to in his incorrect statement to which attention is drawn.
Freeman was extended to the very limit by both Wong Peng Soon and Ooi Teik Hock, as the scores will show, but he won both matches, and then the Badminton world saw no more of this great genius, except for one brief "come-back" in the American Championships of 1953, which he again won.
The 1949 All-England was the first one which, in its entry, was of true world character. It was the first in which representative Malayans played. There were the American, Indian, Danish and Swedish Thomas Cup teams as well, but Freeman waltzed through the lot. "lnvicta" in "The Badminton Gazette" of the time wrote as follows:-
"In the meantime David Freeman advanced to the final without so much as a hair getting out of place. He started with a fairly friendly engagement with his compatriot and doubles partner, Wynn Rogers, who had removed one Malayan foe from his path, and thereafter the American champion won his last four matches by total scores of 120 points to a mere 24. As an indication of things to come was the sight of the end of his match with the Swedish champion, Olle Wahlberg, who had already beaten Poul Holm, last year's Danish finalist. After little more than a quarter of an hour Wahlberg came off absolutely dripping; Freeman never touched a towel. Similarly, he was far too good for Wong Peng Soon and Ooi Teik Hock, but although the scores were one-sided, both matches were nevertheless most fascinating to watch. One saw singles play of the highest possible plane conceivable to the imagination, with footwork of a degree impossible to better. The American made hardly a mistake at all. His drops were simply superb in their closeness to the net-band, and it seemed impossible to wrong-foot him or to deceive him. His powers of concentration, too, were enormous. He is undoubtedly the greatest singles player of his generation, and there were many old timers prepared to back his claims against all the giants of past years."
One must also refute another statement about Freeman made by "Unbiassed" in his article. He says "lt is reported that when he played in and won his only All-England Championship in 1949 (the writer saw him win it) he specifically asked not to be given a bye as this round was to be his 'pre-tournament practice'!"
It is surprising, to say the least, for anyone to believe any such report. For one thing Freeman was too great a sportsman to have made any proposal of this sort, and for another, could anyone really think that any such suggestion would have been considered by the committee of the world's most famous tournament? Of course it would not have been. What is more, Freeman was seeded (in the 3-4 position) and did get a bye in the 46-strong draw. Also, Freeman had had plenty of "pre-tournament practice" in his Thomas Cup matches which had been held only the week before the All-England.
It is now exactly 25 years ago since David Freeman accomplished his great deeds, and as there are probably very few present-day followers who ever saw the great player on court (if indeed in the flesh anywhere), the scores of his principal matches in his triumphant year may be of interest.
FREEMAN'S RECORD IN 1948-49
The scores of his principal matches.
Thomas Cup v Canada:-
beat R.E. Birch 15-4, 15-3
beat J. Samis 15-1, 15-5
Thomas Cup v Malaya:-
beat Ooi Teik Hock 15-10, 10-15, 15-4
beat Wong Peng Soon 15-4, 15-1*
beat T.W. Rogers (U.S.) 15-10, 15-2
beat H. Ferreira (India) 15-3, 15-3
beat O. Wahlberg (Sweden) 15-2, 15-3
beat Wong Peng Soon (Malaya) 15-2, 15-4
beat Ooi Teik Hock (Malaya) 15-1, 15-6
beat Teoh Seng Khoon (Malaya) 15-4, 15-5
beat Wong Peng Soon (Malaya) 18-15, 17-14
beat Ooi Teik Hock (Malaya) 15-11, 14-18, 17-15
*Wong Peng Soon was suffering from muscular trouble in his arm; this prevented him from playing in the final tie against Denmark three days later.
-- World Badminton, April 1974