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DAVID FREED: UTAH’S MR. TENNIS

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He's been seen a lot over the years, courtside, at tennis tournaments, standing there watching - arms folded, chin cupped in his hand, gaze fixed - and probably grading. It's hard for a tennis teacher not to grade good and bad shots . . . especially when the students are his. These days it's pretty hard to go anywhere in tennis and not see students of David Freed's.

Few, however, would single him out as the teacher. Kindly grandfather, certainly. Just a spectator, possibly. But a teacher? At 85, his walk has slowed and his grip softened and his movements have become more deliberate. He surveys his way carefully now.If you look closely, though, there are signs that this was a rather formidable tennis player in his day, like his rangy arms and slim profile and deep concentration.

David Freed was, is and forever will be a tennis teacher first. You can see it in his eyes. Forget about the thousands upon thousands of dollars he's donated to help kids play tennis, and probably an equal number of hours.

Simply talk with him. You can see it in his face - the smile, the gleam in his eyes, his eagerness to talk about tennis and his willingness to help and any cost.

When he tells you tennis was so very good to him and that now he simply wants to give something back, you know it's true.

He has, for years, been called "Mr. Tennis." Not many may know why. He hasn't played much in the last 20 years, and his contributions, for the most part, go unheralded.

As a junior player He was one of the best. He never took lessons, he says, but watched other players and tried to imitate them.

"Then I'd go out and work on my mistakes day after day after day," he says.

He went on to play for the University of Utah, captain the U.S. Davis Cup Team, win too many tennis titles to mention, be inducted into almost every possible tennis Hall of Fame there is and win every possible award he was considered for.

The one win he remembers best, he recalls, was the one that brought him, at age 45, the U.S. Seniors Singles Championship at Forest Hills. Among all his win, this one best typifies Freed.

"I had a man come up to me after and tell me he was the only one out of a group of about 20 that picked me to win. He said that anyone with as much desire to win as I showed was going to win. I wasn't a great player, I don't think. My desire was my greatest strength," he recalls.

His greatest contributions to tennis have been in junior tennis. No one has taught more kids to play than Freed. He modestly admits to some 3,000, but consensus is that it's more.

In 1956, he started a junior program in Salt Lake City. There were 16 players on four teams that year. Freed coached and provided all of the tennis balls. Since, then the program has grown and been copied by other states.

This past year there were 160 teams, involving more than 2,300 kids. Here again, Freed supplied the tennis balls for the entire program.

He's also, over the years, helped pay expenses of juniors traveling to out-of-state tournaments who could not otherwise afford to go and helped out financially in many other ways.

He was also a major contributor and driving force behind the University of Utah's showcase Eccles Tennis Center.

Much more than the money, though, Freed has given to young players his teaching talents and time.

Still, today, at 85 he teaches neighborhood children on courts in his back yard. What he charges for all this and dime would buy a 10-cent piece of candy.

And while lessons are important, he admits, he tells them all that playing "three good, hard sets is the best instruction you can get."

David Freed set out to give back some of what tennis gave him. Truth is, what he's given to tennis is far, far greater.