Bob Falkenburg, California kid who won Wimbledon at 22, dies

Bob Falkenburg at Wimbledon in 1948.
Bob Falkenburg, seen at Wimbledon in 1948, died Thursday from natural causes at his home in Santa Ynez.
(Associated Press)
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Robert “Bob” Falkenburg, who saved three championship points en route to winning the 1948 Wimbledon men’s singles final at age 22 and brought fast food to Brazil during his post-tennis entrepreneurial career, has died. He was 95.

Falkenburg died Thursday from natural causes at his home in Santa Ynez, his daughter, Claudia, said.

In addition to his singles triumph at the All England Club, Falkenburg won two Grand Slam men’s doubles titles during the amateur era of tennis: at Wimbledon in 1947 with partner Jack Kramer, and at the U.S. National Championships in 1944 with Don McNeill.


Falkenburg was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1974.

Born in New York on Jan. 29, 1926, Falkenburg was ranked among the top 10 U.S. tennis players by age 17 and won college singles and doubles titles for USC.

His greatest triumph came at Wimbledon, where three times he was within one point of losing the 1948 singles final while trailing Australia’s John Bromwich at 5-3 in the fifth set before coming all the way back to win 7–5, 0–6, 6–2, 3–6, 7–5. No other man managed to erase a championship point and win the title match at Wimbledon until Novak Djokovic set aside a pair of them when beating Roger Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the 2019 final.

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Falkenburg entered his last Grand Slam tournament in 1955 after moving to Brazil with his wife, Lourdes “Lou” Mayrink Veiga Machado, and founded a series of fast food and ice cream shops called Bob’s. He later sold the franchise. Eventually, more than 1,000 Bob’s opened in Brazil.

“My father never had any interest in becoming a professional (tennis player). He was an amateur, and that was it. When I was growing up, my father did not play tennis; he played golf. Tennis was something from the early part of his life,” his daughter said. “My claim to fame was that I was the daughter of the owner of Bob’s. ... He introduced fast food to Brazil. He changed the way a culture operated.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Falkenburg is survived by his son, Robert II, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.