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FORMER Grand Slam doubles champion Bob Hewitt was charged in a South African court with two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault of minors.

Prosecutors charged the 73-year-old Hewitt, a former member of tennis' Hall of Fame, with raping a girl under the age of 16 in 1981 in Sun City in northern South Africa.

Hewitt also was charged with raping another girl under 16 in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, in 1982. A third charge of sexual assault of a girl under 18 in Boksburg in 1994 was read out at Boksburg Magistrate's Court.

Hewitt, who won 15 Grand Slam doubles titles, has previously denied the accusations. He did not attend his case's first court hearing on Friday citing ill health, but defence lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said Hewitt denies all the charges.

Hewitt is suffering from anxiety attacks and depression among other health problems, is taking medication and couldn't travel from his home in Addo, on South Africa's southern coast, to attend the hearing, Mr Griebenow told reporters.

A medical certificate from Hewitt's doctor was submitted to explain his absence and later released by the court.

The certificate said that Hewitt's "overall condition had deteriorated rapidly over the last 2-3 years." It described how Hewitt had undergone several operations on his knees and a shoulder in recent years and had also suffered a stroke in 2010 and a heart attack in 2011.

bob hewitt

Members of the Australian tennis team (L-R) John Newcombe, Bob Hewitt, Ken Fletcher and Fred Stolle in a 1961 photo.

"Obviously all of this is working on him," Mr Griebenow said. "He's an old man ... and now at such an age, at the age of 73, to be confronted by all of this, it's quite a lot to handle, I think."

The charges followed a two-year investigation by South African authorities into accusations against the Australian-born Hewitt, who moved to South Africa and became a coach toward the end of his tennis career.

The two alleged rape victims have said they were being coached by Hewitt at the time that the offenses are said to have taken place.

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, but was indefinitely suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame last year because of the allegations.

The organisation, based in Newport, Rhode Island, inducted Hewitt in 1992, calling him an "enduringly elegant player" and a "master of the doubles craft."

His legacy and any references to him have now been stripped from the Hall.

Prosecutors said they would apply for Hewitt's trial to be held at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg because two of the three alleged offenses occurred within its jurisdiction.

The defence argued that Hewitt was too old to travel and said it would make an application for the trial to be held in the Eastern Cape province, where he lives. The trial was expected to last about a month, Mr Griebenow said.

The case was adjourned until October 4.

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