Comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”
Speak for yourself, Mitch. Because with a tennis ball machine, you’ll be giving that wall—or, at least a very worthy opponent—a run for its money.
Whether you play on clay, grass, concrete or the occasional water court, a tennis ball machine helps players hone their skills for a more fluid game. You decide how fast, where, and how often the machine spits tennis balls so you can practice at a pace to your liking.
Novak Djokovic’s haul from winning the 2015 Wimbledon Championships was nearly $3 million, enough to invest in about 850 high-end tennis ball machines.
However, you’ll probably want know exactly what you’re getting from your tennis ball machine before throwing that kind of cash on the counter. Are you looking for something your ten year old could practice their forehand with? Are you a high school kid on the verge of mastering that top-spin return? Looking to improve your reaction time?
Whatever your needs, there’s a tennis ball machine out there to help you meet your unique goals—and all with a unique price tag.
Unfortunately, the phrase “leave it all on the court” doesn’t apply to tennis ball machines. And as common sense would suggest, it’s best to store your tennis ball machine somewhere it will be protected from the elements and wicked backhands—think a garage, shed or spare closet. If you must leave your tennis ball machine outside, invest in a heavy-duty cover so any downpours or sandstorms won’t leave your machine damaged.
Tennis ball machines weigh anywhere from 20 to 99 pounds, and offer varying solutions for transport. Some machines, like the Lobster Elite Models, offer compact designs complete with wheels and handles. Others like the Tennis Tutor are literal boxes that need to be carried around. Depending on who’s using the machine and how far it needs to go should play a part in the unit you invest in.
250 tennis balls probably sounds great if you’re A) a golden retriever or B) a very eager ball boy or C) someone who truly doesn’t mind picking up after a workout. While the number of balls you practice with is ultimately up to you, consider what ball capacity you’ll need without overdoing it.
Like betting on a Williams sister, you only have a couple options when it comes to powering up your tennis ball machine: battery or AC cord. If going the AC cord rout, make sure your court has an outlet nearby to plug into. It’d also be wise bring along a 16 gauge or heavier extension cord.
While smaller, less powerful tennis ball machines take regular batteries, most units are rechargeable and last for around 4-6 hours. Even then, you could invest in an AC cord attachment for continuous power. Keep in mind it’s best to charge your tennis ball machine directly after use and can take up to 18 hours to get fully juiced.
Practicing with a tennis ball machine will truly give you a home-court advantage when you put in the work. They can launch balls at a consistent speed and trajectory to perfect troublesome shots, and can also shoot in random patterns to test your reaction time and agility. If you’re on the fence about the investment, know that pros like Stefan Edberg use tennis ball machines to hone their skills and maximize performance. In short, you’d be in great company.
Use the control pad on your tennis ball machine (or its remote control) to set the following features to your liking. However you want to play, the ball’s in your court!
Legend Venus Williams can serve up a tennis ball near 129 mph. Unfortunately, you can’t get that kind of speed from a tennis ball machine. But a Lobster Elite Model can top out at 80 mph, which should be plenty fast to challenge your reaction time.
Typically, tennis ball machines can eject anywhere from 10 to 85 mph, accommodating a variety of skill levels. The elevation is also adjustable, which allows users to practice a variety to returns and strokes.
Whether you want quick repetitions to master that groundstroke or need a few seconds between shots to reset your feet, tennis ball machines allow you to practice at your own pace. That’s because of the adjustable feed rate, or how often a machine launches a ball. Most tennis ball machines have adjustable feed rates anywhere from 2 to 12 seconds to emulate volleys, serves and more.
Oscillation is a unique feature that allows the tennis ball to move in a back and forth, up and down motion across the entire spectrum of the court. Designed to simulate real play, this feature is the next-best thing to having Rodger Federer over for a training session. An oscillating tennis ball machine will challenge your physical and mental agility, resulting in a great workout and improved footwork.
Sometimes oscillation comes as an optional feature in a tennis ball machine, and other times isn’t available at all. If oscillation is something you want, make sure the model you’re interested in has this unique feature.
Andre Agassi, one of the great returners of our era, used to hit buckets of balls from a tennis ball machine to overcome the mental and physical gymnastics of returning a tough serve.
If it worked for Andre, then hopefully it can work for you, too! Whether top-spin balls are your Achilles heel or you need help with backspin, tennis ball machines are easily programmed to emulate a variety of serves.
If you can’t quite master the overhead shot or that backhand on the baseline, what’s the best way to improve?
To keep trying.
Some tennis ball machines come equipped with pre-programmed drills to help maximize your performance. From simple and repetitive groundstrokes to sweeping corner to corner oscillations, these drills are designed to turn weaknesses into strengths and strengths into unstoppable assets.
Some models even have the option to program your own drills for a custom workout tailored to your needs.
We’re all different players with unique strengths and weaknesses, and tennis ball machines help improve every facet of our game. With practice, repetition, and a whole lot of fun, you’ll be causing a racket on the court in no time. Check out these ways a machine can directly affect your game.
There’s no guarantee you’ll end up on the next season of “Dancing with the Stars”, but using the preprogrammed drills and oscillating features of a tennis ball machine helps develop the footwork necessary to become an advanced player.
Groundstrokes and Volleys
A good chef works to master even the most simple and repetitive of dishes. The same goes for tennis. Groundstrokes and volleys are among the first shots you learn to make, yet their importance spans all ages and skill levels. Keep your return game sharp by aiming your tennis ball machine to throw balls to the backhand court. Then, hit 20 to 30 balls before switching to the forehand court.
A 30-second point might look easy when the pros do it, but it’s not so easy for the average player. Challenge your endurance by using your machine’s oscillation feature to launch a mid-court ball at 3 to 5 second intervals.
Accuracy bonus: Set 3 targets on the opposite baseline and try to hit a different one each stroke.
What do tennis players and The Hulk have in common?
The unique ability to SMASH their targets. In the case of a tennis player, that means the overhead shot.
Aim your tennis ball machine to shoot balls down the center of the court, and adjust the elevation for a lob. Try hitting 10 balls down the center, 10 to each corner, and repeat. For an added workout, set the feed rate back a few seconds and try running to the net, touching it, and resetting your feet before smashing the next ball.
Want a game simulation? Set your machine’s oscillating feature to launch balls in a sweeping pattern from corner to corner for 20 to 30 seconds. Then, using your remote, turn the machine off and serve two or three times. Repeat until you’ve successfully beaten your tennis ball machine or your hopper runs out of balls.
Keeping your tennis ball machine clean ensures it can throw balls just as fast and accurate as the day you brought it home. Still, maintenance doesn’t need to happen too often—maybe twice a year or so. All it takes is a little elbow grease, some basic cleaning supplies and a few extra minutes.
Cleaning the exterior of a tennis ball machine is as easy as love, 15, 30. First, take an extra moment to ensure the ball machine is off. Then, use a mild spray detergent and cloth to wipe down the casing of the machine. And lastly, don’t use the spray on the wheels or the control pad—this can cause malfunction.
All you need to clean the interior of a Lobster Tennis Ball Machine is a Phillips screwdriver and a vacuum hose. First, adjust the elevation to its lowest point and switch off the machine. Then grab your screwdriver and carefully remove all six screws from the red casing. After setting the casing aside, use the vacuum hose to eradicate all the dust and ball fuzz inside.
Tennis Tutor Interior
Typically, Tennis Tutors only require maintenance when the trajectory or speed of the ball is off. This happens when ink and dirt builds up on the wheels of the ejection. If your Tennis Tutor seems a little off, grab a piece of coarse sandpaper—40 to 60 grit—and sand the entire circumference of each wheel. The wheels should feel pretty rough after sanding, just like a 3-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the opening round of a major. And like the Lobster, use a vacuum to get rid of excess dirt and ball fuzz from the interior of the machine.
For those who invested in AC units, consider class dismissed. For everyone else, it’s time to learn about battery maintenance.
Ever notice how quickly devices like tablets and phones lose their charge the longer you have them? Often, this is due to poor battery maintenance—and it’s the last thing you want to happen to your tennis ball machine.
Typically, a tennis ball machine can last 4 to 6 hours on a full charge. To keep it that way, charge the machine immediately after each use and never leave plugged in for more than 36 hours at a time. As a side note, never let your machine drain all the way. Most units have indicators to let you know when the battery is low so you can take a break and plug in your machine.