Former tennis champion Bob Hewitt charged with rape and sexual assault of under-age girls

74-year-old Grand Slam doubles winner appears in Johannesburg court

The former Grand Slam doubles tennis champion Bob Hewitt has appeared in court in South Africa charged with raping and sexually assaulting under-age girls.

Walking with the aid of a stick, the 74-year-old appeared at Boksburg Magistrates' Court near Johannesburg today but has yet to offer a formal plea.

However, his lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, said he would deny two charges of rape and one of sexual assault when he goes on trial in February.

“Mr Hewitt is relieved that we at least now have a trial date,” Mr Griebenow said, adding that his client was intent on “putting the record straight”.

He went on to say that Mr Hewitt denied having any sexual contact with the alleged victims or making any “sexual advances” toward them.

Mr Hewitt was charged last year having been accused of raping a girl under the age of 16 in 1981, raping another girl under the age of 16 in 1982, and sexually assaulting a third girl under the age of 18 in 1994, all in South Africa.

The first alleged offence is said to have occurred two years after Mr Hewitt won the last of his 15 Grand Slam doubles and mixed-doubles titles. Two are said to have occurred in Boksburg and one in the Sun City casino resort in northern South Africa.

At least one other woman in the US has accused Mr Hewitt of sexually abusing her when she was a child.

Mr Hewitt, who was born in Australia but became a South African citizen after marrying a South African, won nine Grand Slam doubles and six mixed doubles titles in the 1960s and 1970s. He also reached the semi-finals of the men's singles at the Australian Open three times and won the Davis Cup with South Africa in 1974 after moving there.

He was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in Rhode Island in 1992 but was suspended in 2012 following an investigation into the sexual abuse allegations.

His doctor said in court documents last year that Mr Hewitt suffered a stroke in 2010, a heart attack in 2011 and had other health problems including anxiety attacks and depression.

One of the alleged victims, Suellen Sheehan, was a young player coached by Mr Hewitt. She agreed to be identified by the media. “We're finally in the home stretch,” she was reported as saying.