One of the best ways to get better at playing tennis, is too… hit a lot of balls. Haha, didn’t see that one coming, right? Well, training and playing in the Netherlands, we’re actually not used to grow up and play with tennis ball machines. It actually is seen as an inferior way of training… But ask the father of Andre Agassi, with his grand goal of letting Andre hit a million tennis balls to swing his way into professional tennis, and you’ll find that a tennis ball machine can actually be a great aid while perfecting your training routine. In this article we’ll take a deeper look into the area of tennis ball machines, which ones are best for your goals, and how you can actually get the most out of them.
In a hurry? Here are my top three picks:
Why buy a tennis ball machine?
Before we dive deeper into the subject of tennis ball machines, we might consider for a second here why we might want to buy such a machine in the first place. To get better at tennis, in general, we have two options: take lessons or go to court to practice with a (team)mate. Ideally, you’ll want to do a bit of both to get better fast.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Tennis lessons can be quite expensive, and your (team)mate can get sick. Which leaves you with… watching some tennis at TV?
Not necessarily! This is where the aid of tennis ball machines come in handy. Ball machines are designed to feed you numerous tennis balls, often in a variety of ways, which can simulate – some level of – rally practice. The good news here: you can keep training, independent of the availability (and price) of a tennis trainer or the fitness level of your (team)mate.
Lessons vs. ball machines
However, it is worth taking a closer look to the actual value of lessons vs. ball machines before we proceed. Of course, hitting a 1.000 balls in practice, or during a private lesson, is not the same as hitting 1.000 tennis balls from a tennis ball machine. Consider that you have a faulty technique, then hitting a 1.000 balls with a ball machine will not actually make you better. However, it most often will not make you worse!
New vs. used
One tempting option might be to wander the internet to find a second hand tennis ball machine, to save some upfront expenses. This can be a logical option if you can find a great deal on relatively new machine, but keep in mind that with the aging of a tennis ball machine, up go the costs of maintenance on them. If you’re technically skilled, this does not necessarily have to be a downside. However, you will need to have proper access to parts to keep them as good as new.
How to choose a tennis ball machine?
Before rushing off to spend your hard-earned savings, there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before buying a tennis ball machine.
How often will you use a machine?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it surely isn’t. Tennis ball machines are expensive, so any upfront estimation of the frequency of use can be a smart excercise. Generally speaking, if you plan to play multiple times a week, you can justify the cost of buying a machine within the higher price point range.
However, if you can, most definitely try to rent one first, or even lend one from a buddy. This gives you the opportunity to get some first hand experience before breaking the bank.
What is your budget?
Talking about breaking the bank, do you have a strict budget in mind? While this of course depends on the going pricing range of these machines, having a budget in mind is always a good idea. However, keep in mind that cheaper tennis ball machines are bought around a 1.000 dollars and the more expensive models will cost you two, three or even four times that amount.
What is your skill level?
Based on your experience and skill as a tennis player, you’ll probably need different features as a beginner, as opposed to an advanced player. These differences come into play when taking a closer look to features of different tennis ball machines and what options you have to tweak their functionality.
Features of tennis ball machines
Let’s take a closer look on actual differences between tennis ball machines and how they play out.
Tennis ball capacity
A ball machine that holds up to 40 balls generally will suffice for a beginner. However, if you are a more advanced player you’ll find that you probably go through 40 balls pretty quickly and have some pop left.
Feed rate stands for the amount of time you have between hitting shots. A lower feed rate can be sufficient for beginners, while a higher feed rate can be more challenging for more advanced players.
Oscillation really means the ability to shoot the balls under different angles and distances. As a beginner you might put the ball machine in a position to feed the forehand for a while, and afterwards you might change it manually to face your backhand side. But having a machine that can mimic so-called X-patterns will benefit more advanced players.
Ball speed & spin
Beginners can’t really handle the highest speeds on tennis ball machines. That’s perfectly normal, but good to consider upfront. In general, beginners are good with speeds up to 40 mph (or 64 kmph). More advanced players can opt for higher speeds, wit most top machines offering speeds up to 80 mph (or 120 kmph).
In addition, some machines will have the option to include top spin or even some back spin on the ball. Probably not really necessary for beginners, however, for more advance players this will allow for a more typical rally style of play.
When it comes to tennis, you can’t really do enough drills. Some hate them, some swear by them. However, having a machine that can simulate drills really is an extra that can go a long way and really is a newer feature that wasn’t available on older machines.
Control: phone, app, remote or panel
Back in the day almost every tennis ball machine had a back panel for chaninging settings. Nowadays, you can mosten often find at least a remote control being shipped with the ball machine or even a phone app, that let’s you control your next shot. This is of course added luxury, but can help you decide between to models.
Size and weight
Size and weight might not be the first thing you think about when considering a tennis ball machine, but as tennis success lies within repetition, so is training with your new ball machine. This means you will have to carry it to court a lot (unless you can make that great deal with your local club or trainer to store the machine right there). Everything above 50 lbs can’t be really considered a portable machine anymore. Also, keep in mind that the lowest weights might be very portable, but might start to wobble at higher ball speeds.
Back in the day there was only one choice when it comes to powerin your ball machine: find the nearest (wall) outlet. Luckily, more and more machines come with a battery these days. However, battery life itself is something that you must consider when going for one of these machines.
Types of tennis ball machines
Tennis ball machines come in to main types: compressed air and rotating wheel machines. I’ll describe the main differences between the two of them here.
The most afforable option is to go for a machine with compressed air as main driving unit of the machine. While being the cheapest, compressed air units share some disadvantages in comparison to rotating wheel units. Compressed air machines can be noisy and they are not very consistent when shooting balls, especially not so when loading the machine with different ball types, which we address in a later paragraph.
Rotating wheels offer the best accuracy, but are the more expensive driving units of these ball machines. They don’t make that much noise neither on court. However, tennis balls will wear out faster with the use of these driving mechanisms, so while they are cheaper, they might come with higher repeating costs in the form of extra tennis balls.
Balls and accessories
Opposed to what you might think or feel is right, tennis ball machines work best with pressureless tennis balls. And you’re going to need a lot of them if you’re serious about training with a ball machine. The main reason to choose playing with pressureless balls over playing with pressurized tennis balls, is that pressurized tennis balls, generally speaking, will wear and tear faster.
However, not all pressureless tennis balls are created equal and you can buy a lot of cheap tennis pressureless tennis balls that are… wel, crap. In general, pressureless tennis balls will have thicker rubber and thicker felt to compensate for not having a filled, pressurized inner core in order to keep the stability of the ball construction high.
In all, don’t worry, because you can buy good pressureless tennis balls in bulk.
Frequently Asked Questions on tennis ball machines
Which ball firing option is better?
While this might depend on your perspective, in general, rotating wheel tennis ball machines have the better ball firing option because of consistency.
Do tennis ball machines deliver serves?
No, in general, they don’t.
There are many aspects of a tennis ball machine to consider upfront, before buying your next machine. The main drivers of your choice should be your experience and skill level, which in turn will determinate the type of features that you are looking for in a machine (which I discussed in the paragraphs above). A close second driver should be your budget. Keep in mind that next to the purchasing costs of a machine, you should also factor in costs for (pressureless) tennis balls.
Last update on 2022-12-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API