Selected from thousands of applicants: Hannah & David Ritlewski at Australian Open

Hannah and David Ritlewski are ballkids at the Australian OpenEvery year, thousands of boys and girls apply for a position as a ballkid at the Australian Open. Only 350 are selected and in 2018 two Germans are part of the event: Hannah and David Ritlewski made it! Their father Daniel is from Hamburg and their mother Alison from Melbourne. 


Thousands of applications

Summertime, holiday time! While other kids rather sleep in, Hannah Ritlewski (14) and her brother David (12) are woken by their alarms at 6am in Mount Waverley. Would that be a reason to keep snoozing or to drag themselves out of Very rarely are siblings chosen to be ballkidsbed grumpy? Not at all! Brother and sister are broad awake in no time, put on their orange shirts and blue shorts, slip into their shiny brand new white sneakers, have breakfast and then head towards Rod Laver Arena!

Hannah and David managed to be selected as ballkids for the Australian Open 2018 in Melbourne. The first Grand Slam tournament of the season officially begins on Monday 15 January and ends with the Men’s final on Sunday 28 January. 2500 boys and girls from all over Australia applied to become a ballboy or ballgirl. Only 350 made it, including 28 international ballkids from France, China and South Korea as well as Hannah, born in Frankfurt am Main and her brother David who was born in Melbourne.

Ballgirl for the second time

Hannah and David with their Australian Mum Alison. Their father is from Germany. "My mum calls Hannah her Apfelstrudel and David her Aussie meat pie", says Hannah’s and David’s mother Alison. Alison met her German husband Daniel in 1999 in Melbourne and spent a total of 6 years with him in Germany as well as several years in Japan before returning to Melbourne. Hannah and David probably owe their love for tennis to their father who works at Swinburne University of Technology as Senior Manager – Collaboration and Partnerships and who also used to be a tennis coach in Hamburg.

„I started playing tennis when I was six“, says David. Hannah was eight when she picked up a tennis racket for the first time and has loved the sport since then. It was also her idea to apply for a ballkid position which she did two years ago in early 2016. Unlike David, Hannah will be working at the Australian Open 2018 as a ballkid for the second time. However, this did not spare her from having to go through the same tough selection process as all the other applicants. “Together with David I had to apply online in early 2017”. When the assessors spotted the young Ritlewskis’ talent Hannah and David got through to the next round of the selection process.

Do dreams come true?

„We then had to roll, catch and throw tennis balls at the National Tennis Centre for two hours“, Hannah and David recall. They did this while being closely watched by a number of assessors. Alison believes that the assessors also 350 ballkids volunteer for the Australian Openslooked at how well the boys and girls could follow instructions and whether they could work as part of a team.

In total, they had to go through five of these assessment trials over a period of five months – without a guarantee that their and the dream of thousands of other boys and girls comes true: a spot in the final group of ballkids, the “Train-on Squad”. The Ritlewskis were told that in South Korea for example, 4000 children lodged an application.

Happy, speechless and jumping for joy 

It is Hannah's second time as an Australian Open BallkidWhen Papa Daniel told Hannah in November 2017 that she got through, Hannah jumped for joy. She made it! Both Hannah and David secured the sought-after position of a ballkid. Alison, who works as a Clinical Coder at Monash Health, laughs and recalls that “Hannah was absolutely over the moon”. And what about David? With a glow in his eyes, David recalls: “I was speechless and just could not believe it. I kept asking myself: is this really happening? And then I almost cried because I was so happy“. It all paid off: hours of rolling tennis balls down the hallway of the family home, throwing and catching balls over months in the garden and watching numerous training videos Tennis Australia prepared for aspiring ballkids.

In December 2017 Hannah and David then got a taste of the work of a ballkid during the “December Showdown” at Melbourne Park where the country’s best Junior Players compete. “ I was very nervous”, David admits. “ At first, I was at the net and then behind the baseline”. Each round required 45 minutes of full concentration and body control. “It was exhausting and afterwards I was so sore because I had to stand up straight for so long”. Being a ballkid is no walk in the park.

Sweating in 40+ degree heat and bleeding fingertips


The work of a ballkid can be challenging, especially when temperatures soar above 40 degrees, as it happened last year. Hannah remembers “One day it was so hot that I almost fainted”. During matches ballkids are not allowed toOrange and blue are the colours for this year's ballkids at the Australian Open drink and when it gets too hot, their on-court session times are reduced to 30 minutes. Sometimes bloody fingertips can also be part of the ballkid experience because when rolling the balls, their fingers sometimes scrape the surface of the courts. “That’s not too bad though”, Hannah says. “ I just taped my fingertips and got on with it”. 

When rolling a ball, ballkids have to aim accurately and ensure that they roll it flat with not too much speed. If the ball rolls too fast, it often happens that it starts to bounce and then gets out of control. When it is rolled too slow it may interrupt the match. “When Servicing, i.e. throwing a ball to the player, is it important to stand up straight and to use the right technique for the arm you are throwing with” David explains. “You always have to be alert and ask yourself what could happen next. Don’t wait or hesitate and act quickly”. 

Players‘ towels have to be folded in a particular way

An experience of a life time for Hannah and David to be at the Australian Open as a ballkidThat’s often easier said than done. Although most players use distinct gestures to indicate what they want, it often happens that, in the heat of the match, their gesture is not clear. Hannah says that “you then not really know what they want”. “It sometimes happens that they just directly look at you and you then don’t know whether they want another ball, their towel, if they are thinking about their next point or just looking”.

Talking about towels: Hannah explains that they have to be held and folded in a particular way. “And don’t forget the sponsors because they pay a lot of money”, David adds. However, it seems that the ballkids get a bit of a raw deal. Although they receive a daily food allowance of $23, it can only be spent at the Australian Open where a small piece of chocolate costs $5 or a bit of pasta $14. Saving that money is not possible either because the daily allowance is linked to a chip in the ballkids’ accreditation pass which expires at the end of each day.

Working past midnight

Ballkids can buy their food during any of their 45-minute breaks between matches. They are usually rostered on to one particular court per day until all scheduled matches on that court are completed. Sometimes matches can go Australian Open in Melbourne are always a highlightuntil late at night. “The organisers then try to avoid for ballkids to be rostered on early the next day to give them a bit of a break” Hannah says. The Ballkids’ organisers inform all ballkids by SMS around 5pm each day if and when they are rostered on the next day. When the ballkids arrive they are then told which court and matches they have been allocated. It seems that neither Hannah nor David would mind being allocated to matches with Roger Federer or Angelique Kerber. Both players are their favourites. 

During the Australian Open in 2017, Hannah was fortunate enough to work on courts with Mischa Zverev, Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Pat Cash and Goran Ivanisevic. And although she was sore and exhausted after two weeks of hard work she very much enjoyed the experience. “It is amazing to be so close to these players. It gives you a completely different perspective and a great opportunity to look behind the scenes. And you get to make a lot of new friends every day”.

Hannah Ritlewski: Melbourne’s ballkids learn life skills

Overall, she has become more independent, better organised and more self-confident as a result of having had the ballkid experience, Hannah says. “For example, I had to plan my travel by train and tram to and from the Australian Open and I had so interact with a lot of people I had not met before”. Alison confirms her daughter’s observations: “Her life and organisational skills have definitely improved. She became more responsible and reliable”. Alison and Daniel expect the same to happen with David and hope that he manages to get himself to the tennis on time. If a match finishes too late though, they will pick up the children by car.

By the way, the Ritlewski’s washing machine will be doing extra spins over the next few weeks: “They only get two pairs of white socks, shirts and shorts" says Alison laughing. Hannah and David don’t seem too worried about the washing though. They are more concerned with deciding on who they would support when there was a match between a German and an Australian player. Both look at each other, discuss and then give a diplomatic answer: “It would depend on the individual players and if necessary we would cheer for both”. Bravo!

Words: Claudia Löber-Raab, , Translated by Daniel Ritlewski