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Bob Falkenburg – champion at Wimbledon and in business

Vintage action with Falkenburg.
by Sarah Edworthy
Wednesday 26 June 2013

On 2nd July 1948, Robert ‘Bob’ Falkenburg of the United States defeated the Australian John Bromwich to win the gentlemen’s singles in a rollercoaster five-setter (7-5, 0-6, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5). Bromwich had championship point at 5-3 in the fifth set, but Falkenburg fought his way back, saving three match points in total, and went on to take the title.

That was 65 years ago – the year Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia, the nation of Israel was proclaimed, Harry Truman was US President, Clement Attlee the British Prime Minister, the Long Playing vinyl record was invented and the game of Scrabble introduced.

Bob – who was 87 this January and who will be following the 2013 Championships from his home in Santa Ynez, California – was a player noted for his agility and powerful serve. Prior to his singles triumph, he had won the Wimbledon doubles title with Jack Kramer in 1947.

His family wonder if he might be the oldest living Wimbledon champion? Answers in a comment box below, please!

Tennis is the thread that runs through a productive and colourful life in business and sport. Though Bob is well known for his Wimbledon victories, he is also celebrated in South America for turning down a $100,000-a-year professional tennis contract in order to introduce soft ice cream and American fast-food staples such as hamburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes and sundaes to Brazil. “Bob’s” was the first fast food restaurant in South America and today has more than 1,000 outlets in Brazil as well as franchises in four other countries.

Bob Falkenburg, born in New York City, was brought up in Los Angeles and started to play tennis when he was 10 years old. His parents were both enthusiastic amateur tennis players: his father Eugene, known as Genie, was an engineer involved in the construction of the Hoover Dam and his mother Marguerite, or Mickey, won the 1927 São Paulo state tennis championship after the family had moved to Brazil. Bob’s sister, Jinx, a film star/model, and brother Tom also had successful amateur tennis careers.

Bob’s rise through the ranks was speedy and consistent. He frequented The Los Angeles Tennis Club in Hollywood and the Bel-Air Country Club, where he won the junior tennis tournament in 1937 at 11 years of age. While a student at Fairfax High School, he won the 1942 National Interscholastic singles title and the 1943 national doubles title with his brother. In the following year, he claimed the US doubles crown with Don McNeill at Forest Hills and became one of the youngest players to enter the US Top 10 amateur ranks. He remained in the US Top 10 for five years and was ranked as high as world No.7.

During World War II he served as an air cadet, but continued to swing his racket while in the Air Force. In 1946, while attending the University of Southern California, he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association singles and doubles titles (teaming up again with his brother). That same year he met a ‘Brazilian beauty’, Lourdes ‘Lou’ Mayrink Veiga Machada. They married in 1947, the year of his Wimbledon doubles triumph. Three years later, having moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1950, Bob played for the 1954 and 1955 Brazilian Davis Cup teams.

Falkenburg, who was also a strong amateur golfer, was said to have won Wimbledon not just because he was a great tennis player, but because he was a tremendous strategist. Fellow tennis player Tom Brown described his competitive approach as being similar to a shrewd businessman: “He would review the situation, figure out what was likely, and take chances.”

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