Here are some ideas for utilizing your tennis ball machine in your practice sessions. Before we get into details of the drills though, a word of caution: make sure you’re reinforcing good technique, not bad! To help with this you may want to:
- work with a coach or friend who’s at least as good as you
- consider video-taping your session – you may spot things as an observer that you can’t as a player
Practice Drill 1
Fire ball after ball to the same position on court, to allow you to really groove a particular shot. Bye bye, dodgy backhand. You can do this for just about any shot: ground-strokes, half-volleys, volleys, overheads, return of serve, etc.
Practice Drill 2
Fire balls up the middle of the court and play alternating forehands and backhands by running around the ball – also good for your fitness and footwork.
Practice Drill 3
Use a two line setting (if your machine has one) to alternate hitting forehands and backhands. As you get better at this you can space the shots out more, and crank up the speed too, to really get the feet moving and practice hitting your shots on the run.
Practice Drill 4
Put your machine on a random oscillation setting so you get a mix of balls coming at you, and aim your returns at specific areas of the court. For example, play all shots deep and cross-court, or alternate between cross-court and down the line. If possible, set the machine to deliver a mix of topspin, flat and backspin balls.
Practice Drill 5
Again with your machine on random oscillation, practice specific patterns of play or shot combinations. For example, hit a couple of ground strokes, followed by an approach shot, half-volley, then a couple of volleys, to practice working your way into the net.
Practice Drill 6
If you have one of those super-duper programmable machines, punch in a specific sequence of balls so you can practice specific plays over and over. This could be a tactic of your own devising, or perhaps you want to recreate a point from a Federer-Nadal match…
These are obviously just the tip of the iceberg, and with most tennis ball machines the major limitation is your imagination! What are your favourite drills? Feel free to share in the comments below.