Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis great faces sexual abuse charges

A New Zealand woman allegedly sexually abused by a Grand Slam tennis champion more than 30 years ago is hoping justice will finally be served.

South African police are to decide if tennis great Bob Hewitt, originally from Australia but who forged his career in the republic, should face charges of sexual abuse of young girls, including an allegation of rape.

Hewitt won Grand Slam doubles titles - the US Open, Wimbledon, the Australian and French Opens - and seven singles titles in the 1970s and 80s.

At the age of 12, Twiggy Tolken was a promising tennis player in South Africa and had dreams of becoming a professional. So when the tennis legend offered to be her coach her parents jumped at the opportunity.

"He won my parents over, they thought he was a real gentleman. They never suspected anything," Tolken, who moved to Auckland three years ago, said yesterday.

But for five months in 1980, Hewitt allegedly started sexually abusing his student and professed his love for her in letters which he left in her racket bag.

A copy of one of the letters, viewed by the Herald on Sunday yesterday, includes a line that says, "My heart is going faster and faster because in 40 minutes I will see you again".

The originals were given to police years ago.

Tolken said: "It was very confusing, not understanding what was happening. I mean, when some man comes to you and tells you to do something to him, you feel uncomfortable but you're not sure what's going on. This man got us to trust him."

Hewitt continued his coaching career and he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992.

Now, 32 years later, South African police have completed an investigation into an allegation that Hewitt raped another girl he was coaching in the 80s.

A further two women, in the US and South Africa, have also come forward with allegations similar to Tolken's.

South African police say they are awaiting instructions from prosecutors about how to proceed with the case.

Hewitt, now 72, was approached by South African newspaper Weekend Post at his home in Addo, Eastern Cape.

"I do not want to end my career like this. I have had a stroke, have heart problems and am on medication. My wife is also ill. I just want to apologise to anyone I have offended," he said.

This did not appease Tolken.

"If he offended anybody? Yes he offended me. I don't accept his apology and I wouldn't use the word offended," she said.

"This man belongs in jail. That's it. He belongs in jail."

- APNZ

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