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Sports

Bob Hewitt appears in South Africa court to face rape charge

Disgraced former tennis star Bob Hewitt walks outside a court in Boksburg, South Africa on Friday.

NOKUTHULA MBATHA/THE STAR/AP

Disgraced former tennis star Bob Hewitt walks outside a court in Boksburg, South Africa on Friday.

Facing one of his alleged victims for the first time in decades, disgraced Hall of Fame tennis champion Bob Hewitt Friday ended a year-long delay by appearing in a South Africa court to answer charges that he sexually assaulted three underage girls he coached in the 1980s and ’90s.

Hewitt, 74, who had cited medical reasons for skipping four previous court dates, said in Boksburg Magistrate’s Court that he understood the charges against him. He was not required to enter a plea, but his lawyer indicated he would fight the charges at trial.

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A trial date was set for Feb. 9 at South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

Suellen Sheehan, who was no more than 13 when Hewitt allegedly raped her in 1981, wept when she faced him for the first time since that period. She and Hewitt made extended eye contact but did not exchange words.

“I’m not sure what the emotion was,’’ Sheehan said. “I think it was mostly that we are now at 40-love’’ in seeking justice.

“Fifteen-love was speaking out,’’ she said. “Thirty-love was his removal from the [International Tennis] Hall of Fame, and 40-love is seeing him in court. We are close to game, set, and match.’’

The charges stem from allegations, uncovered in a 2011 Globe investigation, that Hewitt sexually abused underage girls he coached, from Greater Boston to South Africa, from the 1970s to the ’90s. The review was set in motion by Heather Crowe Conner, a teacher at Reading Memorial High School, who said Hewitt raped her when she was a 15-year-old student at Masconomet Regional High School.

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Conner has been frustrated in seeking charges against Hewitt in Massachusetts but has supported the alleged victims in South Africa.

In addition to Sheehan, Hewitt is charged with raping Twiggy Tolken in 1982 when she was no older than 13 and he was coaching her in Sun City, South Africa. He also is accused of sexually assaulting his former tennis student, Amanda Weinhold, in 1994 when she was 16.

Globe policy protects the identity of sexual abuse victims, but Hewitt’s alleged victims have agreed to be publicly identified.

Hewitt, a multiple Grand Slam doubles champion, appeared frail and used a walking stick in court. His lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, has said Hewitt remains ill after suffering a stroke and heart attack. He shielded Hewitt from reporters.

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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