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Former Grand Slam doubles champ Bob Hewitt sent to trial on rape, sexual assault charges

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Former Grand Slam doubles champion and one-time Tennis Hall of Famer Bob Hewitt was indicted 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.

Walking with the aid of a stick, the 74-year-old Hewitt attended Boksburg Magistrate's Court near Johannesburg and told the court he understood the charges. 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 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 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 Hewitt won the last of his 15 Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles titles. Two of the alleged offences are said to have occurred in the city of Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, and one in the Sun City casino resort in northern South Africa.

At least one other woman in the United States has accused Hewitt of sexually abusing her when she was a minor.

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 also reached the semifinals of the men's singles at the Australian Open three times and won the Davis Cup with South Africa in 1974 after moving there to live.

Hewitt was inducted into the Rhode Island-based Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992 as a master of the doubles craft. 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, during which he was interviewed by attorneys hired by the hall.

Hewitt missed his earlier court dates in Boksburg 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 suffered from anxiety attacks and depression among other health problems.

Hewitt had to be asked twice in the courtroom if he understood the charges against him, South African newspaper The Star reported.

One of the alleged victims, Suellen Sheehan, attended previous court hearings and was present again on Friday, according to 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.

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