Former Grand Slam doubles champion and one-time Tennis Hall of Famer Bob Hewitt was indicted on Friday on charges of rape and sexual assault of minors and will go on trial in February, his lawyer told The Associated Press.
Attorney Alwyn Griebenow said Hewitt denies two charges of rape and one of sexual assault of girls he coached in South Africa decades ago.
Hewitt attended Boksburg Magistrate’s Court near Johannesburg and told the court he understood the charges, Griebenow said in a phone interview. Hewitt was not asked to enter a plea. Griebenow said he would plead not guilty to all three charges at his trial.
”Mr. Hewitt is relieved that we at least now have a trial date,” Griebenow said. He said Hewitt denied having any sexual contact with the alleged victims or making any ”sexual advances” toward them. Hewitt was focusing on ”putting the record straight” at the trial, Griebenow added.
In South Africa, a defendant is served with indictment papers before his case is sent to a higher court for trial. Hewitt, 74, was charged last year and will stand trial from Feb. 9 at South Gauteng High Court, Griebenow said.
He is accused of raping a girl under the age of 16 in 1981, raping another girl under the age of 16 in 1982, and sexual assaulting a third girl under the age of 18 in 1994.
The Australian-born Hewitt won nine grand slam doubles and six mixed doubles titles in the 1960s and 1970s, playing occasionally with former stars Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King.
He was inducted into the Rhode Island-based Tennis Hall of Fame as a master of the doubles craft after winning 15 Grand Slam titles. Hewitt also reached the semifinals of the men’s singles at the Australian Open three times. He was indefinitely suspended from the hall in 2012 and his legacy stripped from the institution after an investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse.
Hewitt missed a string of his early court dates citing ill health, but arrived for his hearing on Friday wearing a brown blazer and using a walking stick. His doctor said in court documents last year that Hewitt had a stroke in 2010, a heart attack in 2011, and also suffered from anxiety attacks and depression among other health problems.
One of the alleged victims, Suellen Sheehan, has attended previous court hearings and was present again on Friday, according to South African newspaper The Star. The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse but Sheehan, who was a young player coached by Hewitt, has agreed to be identified by the AP.
”We’re finally in the home stretch,” The Star quoted Sheehan as saying.