Dave Freeman was born in 1920 and grew up in his native Californian town of Pasadena. His father, Dr. Robert Freeman, was a minister for the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. His mother was professor of religion at Occidental College.
After graduating from Pasadena High School in 1938, he pursued his studies at Pomona College where he earned a bachelor’s degree. He then went to pre-med school and graduated from Harvard Medical School by the end of the Second World War in 1945. Following his graduation, he spent 2 years in the Army Medical Corps before settling in San Diego to practice neurosurgery.
Like so many other great players of his era, he was a versatile athlete that was fluent in many racket sports such as squash, table tennis, and tennis. “Dave Freeman’s rackets have won him more than 250 trophies”, claimed a 1942 Life feature on the American athlete. Alongside his success in badminton, Freeman made his mark in tennis, where he reached the Top 16 in singles in the national rankings. His record shows he has beaten world Top 10 singles players such as Jack Crawford of Australia and Charles Hare of Great Britain in Davis Cup competition.
His main achievements in tennis are the 1937 US National Junior Singles and Doubles Tennis Championships, a men's doubles final with Bill Talbert at the 1943 US Senior Championship, and the World-Wide US Army Tennis title in 1947.
However, his main interest remained with badminton. “Badminton was built for me, probably because I was quick more than anything else. I wasn’t powerful. I wasn’t fast. I couldn’t run very fast, but I was quick and I had good hand-eye coordination”, said the legendary athlete about his game. The Hicock Sports Biography described his style as “resembling a Comanche war dance."
Freeman was also renowned for his shot-making abilities and acrobatics. “During a match he spends as much time on the floor as on his feet,” said the Life feature on the athlete. Dave Freeman was indeed a showman and “his grandstanding is of the infectious variety which moves an audience to cheer his play, not jeer."
His successes in badminton began in 1939, when he won his first of 7 national titles in singles. He won 6 of them consecutively from 1939 to 1948. Freeman added 5 more titles in doubles (4 of which were consecutively), and 3 consecutive titles in mixed doubles with Sara Lee Williams.
His record in international competition is as short as it is spectacular. After his studies in medicine and engagement in the war, Freeman played for the United States team for the Thomas Cup in a Pan-American tie with Canada in December 1948. He was given captainship of this team and led them to the Inter-Zone tie against then Malaya. Finishing third, the Americans lost the tie played in Glasgow despite Freeman’s perfect record in singles against Wong Peng Soon and Ooi Teik Hock, Malaya's top players.
Less than 2 weeks later, the athlete from Pasadena made his first and only appearance at the All England Championships in March 1949. Freeman showed the world that he was a force to be reckoned with. He blazed a path to the final and left his opponents with a meager average of 9 points per match. Even the great Wong Peng Soon, winner of the next 3 consecutive editions of the prestigious tournament, was not able to avenge his defeat at the Thomas Cup and produce more than 6 points against Freeman at the semi-final stage. The American then went on to crush the other Malayan, Ooi Teik Hock, with the scores of 15-1, 15-6 in the final of the tournament. His All England men's singles title remains the only one ever won by a player representing the United States.
Later that same year, Freeman won the Danish Open, his only other title on European soil. Freeman once again met Ooi Teik Hock for a third and final time in that year. After retiring in 1949, he came back on court 4 years later to claim his last national title. That victory was the player’s swan song: “I was 33 and had a swollen knee and a sprained ankle and diarrhoea. It was the first time in a tournament I didn’t have a good time,” Freeman told the press.
After his retirement, Freeman put into practice his years of studies in medicine and became a neurosurgeon in San Diego. Freeman once stated that he “always did operations a lot faster than the next guy [and] used to do 16-hour operations in 12 hours." He spent his free time playing tennis and riding horses with his family. Later in his medical career, he became an expert witness in medical cases. In 1994, he retired from medicine.
After he hung up his racket, Freeman made regular appearances to present trophies to the winners of the David Freeman annual tournament held in his hometown of San Diego. He was inducted into the US Badminton Hall of Fame in 1956 and, in 1997, became the first American to be inducted into the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Hall of Fame.
Dave Freeman passed away in 2001.
1956 – USBA Hall of Fame
1997 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
2005 World Championships Official Program
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: 1992-1995 (David L. Porter)
British Pathé Youtube Channel
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Life (May 11, 1942)
Los Angeles Times (July 12, 1989)
Milwaukee Journal (May 17, 1941)
Toronto Star (January 14, 1953)
Vancouver Sun (February 12, 1953)
-- By Yves Lacroix