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Bob Falkenburg, Tennis Hall of Famer Turned Entrepreneur, Dies at 95

Bob Falkenburg, the Tennis Hall of Famer who captured the 1948 Wimbledon singles championship in a thrilling fifth-set comeback and also won a pair of Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, then forged a second career as a businessman who introduced fast food outlets to South America, died on Thursday at his home in Santa Ynez, Calif. He was 95.

His death was confirmed to The Associated Press by his daughter Claudia.

Falkenburg was ranked among the nation’s top 10 tennis players at age 17 and remained in that elite category for the next five years.

His signature achievement came at Wimbledon in 1948, when he was down three match points facing John Bromwich of Australia. Relying on powerful backhands and a strong serve, he came back to win his only major singles championship. A year later, Falkenburg won the first two sets facing Bromwich in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, but Bromwich won the last three.

Falkenburg teamed with Don McNeill as men’s doubles champions at the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills in 1944 and with Jack Kramer in the Wimbledon doubles in 1947.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame, which inducted Falkenburg in 1974, called him “a thinking man’s player, one who took calculated risks when others might play it safe.”

“He was confident that his big booming serve wouldn’t fail him and that his forays to net would lead to winners,” it said.

Falkenburg’s brother, Tom, and his sister, Jinx Falkenburg, competed in the U.S. Nationals. But Jinx was best known for her career in show business. She was a model and movie actress, then joined with her husband and manager, Tex McCrary, on the popular radio and early TV breakfast chat program “Tex and Jinx.”

Falkenburg entered his last Grand Slam tournament in 1955 after moving to Brazil with his wife, Lourdes Mayrink Veiga Machado, a Brazilian native, whom he married in 1947. He played for Brazil in the 1954 and 1955 Davis Cups.

According to the Tennis Hall of Fame, Falkenburg once remembered how on one of his trips from the United States to Brazil he was “distressed that I couldn’t get a decent hamburger or milkshake.”

He founded South America’s first fast food and ice cream outlets in 1952 in the Copacabana neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, calling them Bob’s. His mini-chain consisted of about a dozen outlets when the Falkenburgs, having moved back to Southern California in 1970, sold Bob’s to Nestlé’s Libby operation in 1974. Bob’s has had several ownerships since then and has expanded to more than 1,000 outlets in Brazil and beyond South America as well.

Robert Falkenburg was born on Jan. 29, 1926, in Manhattan and grew up in Los Angeles. His father, Eugene, an engineer, and his mother, Marguerite (Crooks) Falkenburg, played in amateur tennis events, and Bob began wielding a racket at private clubs when he was 10 years old.

He won a junior tennis tournament to the Bel-Air Country Club in 1937 and, while at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, won the U.S. Interscholastic singles title in 1942; he also teamed with his brother to win the doubles title that year. He was later a fine amateur golfer and won the Brazilian amateur championship three times.

After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Falkenburg won the 1946 intercollegiate singles and double championships while at the University of Southern California.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his son, Robert, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, according to The A.P. Both Tex and Jinx (her birth name was Eugenia; her mother provided her nickname) died in 2003.

Describing Falkenburg’s stunning final-set comeback at Wimbledon in 1948, The New York Times reported that “Wimbledon championship fans have seen far better tennis than today’s match, but they’ve rarely witnessed a more exciting one.”

As for Falkenburg’s serve that ended the match, 7-5, The Times related how “there was one clear loud pop.”

“Bromwich stood flatfooted as the service ace whizzed by him,” The Times wrote. “When a few minutes later, the Duchess of Kent up in the Royal Box presented the coveted trophy to Falkenburg, he looked as surprised as he was pleased.”

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