Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis champ's suspension a 'huge relief ' - victim

In this 1965 file photo Bob Hewitt competes during a tennis match at Wimbledon, England. Photo / AP
In this 1965 file photo Bob Hewitt competes during a tennis match at Wimbledon, England. Photo / AP

A New Zealand woman who alleges she was sexually abused by a Grand Slam tennis champion 33 years ago says it's a "huge relief" he has been suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The hall's executive committee has unanimously voted to indefinitely suspend South African tennis great Bob Hewitt amid allegations he sexually abused dozens of girls he coached, the Associated Press reported.

One of his alleged victims, Twiggy Tolken, told APNZ she was "extremely happy" at the news.

"Having had this outcome from the Hall of Fame is just a huge relief because, do you know what, it's gone viral - everybody now knows about this man now.

Ms Tolken, who moved to New Zealand from South Africa three years ago, said the publicity had prompted South African prosecutors to start moving with urgency to bring Hewitt to court.

She alleges Hewitt sexually abused her for five months in 1980 when he was her tennis coach.

He allegedly professed his love for the then 12-year-old in letters left in her racket bag.

"My heart is going faster and faster because in 40 minutes I will see you again," one letter said.

Hewitt, who was originally from Australia but forged his career in South Africa, won Grand Slam doubles titles including the US Open, Wimbledon and the Australian and French Opens. He also won seven singles titles in the 1970s and 80s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

The hall hired attorney Michael Connolly to conduct an inquiry after receiving complaints from multiple women who claimed to have been abused by Hewitt when he was their coach.

Mr Connolly interviewed more than 24 people - including a 10-hour interview with Hewitt - over several months.

"We identified as many of the victims as we could, spoke to them, spoke to their family members and spoke to a host of others with relevant information," he told South Africa's Daily News.

The hall's chief executive Mark Stenning said the investigation had deemed the allegations credible.

"His legacy ceases to exist in the Hall of Fame," he told the Associated Press.

"His name will be removed from our website and all other materials and, from the perspective of the Hall of Fame, he ceases to be a Hall of Famer."

Ms Tolken said that despite being a private person, she wanted to speak publicly about her experience to give strength to other victims of sexual abuse.

"... anybody else out there who has been through anything like needs to know that they must speak up. In our case, there was one girl that spoke up and 22 people came forward. People don't have to live in shame, they need to speak out".

Where to get help:

Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP: (09) 623 1700 (24 hour confidential phone line) or visit their site.

Rape Prevention Education: 09 360 4001 or visit http://rpe.co.nz/

Women's Refuge crisis-line: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843

- APNZ

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