JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Former Grand Slam doubles champion Bob Hewitt pleaded not guilty to charges of rape and sexual assault of minors on Monday in a court in Johannesburg.
Australian-born Hewitt, 75, 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.
Hewitt said he emphatically denied raping his former students, in a statement read by his lawyer, Terry Price. He said his accusers had changed their statements a number of times during various television interviews in recent years.
"No matter what happens in this case I will never recover from these accusations," his statement read, comparing his case to the recent allegations against comedian Bill Cosby.
Wearing an olive jacket and pale yellow shirt, Hewitt was joined in the witness bench by his wife. Lawyers said the suspended hall of famer was partially deaf and needed assistance. He had brought a pillow along to support his back on the hard wooden benches.
Hewitt won doubles and mixed doubles titles at all four Grand Slam events between 1963 and 1979 and played with greats like Billie Jean King.
Recognized as one of the greatest doubles players of all time and a winner of 15 Grand slam doubles titles, Hewitt was indefinitely suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in November 2012 because of the allegations.
The first state witness, Theresa "Twiggy" Tolken, described to the court how Hewitt sexually assaulted her during their coaching sessions and later raped her at a resort in 1981. She was 12 and 13 at the time of the alleged assaults.
The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but Tolken agreed to be named.
Tolken read three letters she said Hewitt had written to her at the time of the assault.
"I want to see you. Can't of course hold or kiss you because that has to come from you," Tolken read. She said that Hewitt had told her to destroy the letters.
Tolken, now 47, travelled from New Zealand to testify in the case. This is the second time Tolken has pursued a criminal case against the tennis star.
In his statement, Hewitt said of Tolken: "I treated her like my own daughter and became, in retrospect, too close to her."
Outside the courthouse, a group named "Women and Men Against Child Abuse" hung black and red posters, calling for a life sentence for child rapists. The largest banner was made of a photograph of Hewitt receiving a trophy, surrounded by the words, "Sport's hidden shame of child abuse. How many? How long?"