Buying a tennis ball machine is an investment in your game, but considering that most machines on the market are not cheap, it makes sense to do a bit of research beforehand. This article will give an overview of the most common features found in today’s tennis ball machines to help you choose one that’s right for you.
How many tennis balls can a machine hold before you have to walk over and refill it? As with most other features, there is a wide range, but most good tennis ball machines have a capacity of 100 to 200 balls. Entry-level machines sometimes have lower capacities, while top-of-the-range ones can be significantly higher. Better make sure you have enough balls to fill it though!
This refers to the ability of the machine to create a random pattern of shots from side to side, instead of feeding balls to a single spot on the court. Oscillating machines can of course be set to not oscillate so you can practise a particular shot, but in general oscillation is a must-have feature or you will outgrow the machine very quickly.
Some high-end machines also feature vertical oscillation to randomly vary the trajectory of the ball and give you a more realistic mix of shots to deal with.
Ball Feed Rate
How many balls can a machine feed in a particular time? All but the most basic machines have settings that allow you to vary the rate from a ball every couple of seconds to a ball every 10 or twelve seconds. The more expensive machines tend to give you more control than the cheaper ones.
Ball Ejection Speed
How hard can the machine deliver the ball to you? Ideally you want one that won’t knock the kids’ heads off, but can still challenge you as your game develops. Most good machines can deliver balls at a gentle 10mph, or in excess of 60mph.
Can the machine impart spin to the ball? Backspin and topspin are standard on higher-end machines (including a no-spin option in the middle), which obviously provides a more realistic experience. The top machines can mix up balls with different spins, just as a human player would.
Most good ball machines can deliver flat groundstrokes to steep lobs and anything in between. This is important so you can practice a wide range of shots.
Size and Weight
Size and weight is an important consideration, as by necessity you are likely to have to lug the machine down to your court every time you want to use it. None are particularly portable, with the smallest machines standing about a foot high and weighing in at around 30lbs, and the largest can be four feet tall and weigh up to 100lbs!
Most modern machines come with a rechargable battery as standard, but it is possible to find ones that run off mains power. Bear in mind that not all courts have accessible power outlets, so it’s safer to choose a battery-powered machine. However, performance is likely to degrade as the batteries run down, so if you’re planning on any seriously long sessions, you may need a spare battery pack. Most batteries should give you at least a couple of hours playing time though.
Portability here refers to whether or not a machine runs off mains power; battery-operated machines are considered ‘portable’, whereas mains ones are not, regardless of size!
Remote-controlled machines offer a convenience factor that allows you (or your coach) to control the machine without having to continually walk around to the other side of the net. It costs a little more, but you’ll be glad you did!
Expect to spend upwards of $1000 (USD) for a decent machine, although it may be possible to pick up a bargain on . My best advice is to shop around, as prices vary tremendously between different retailers.
Most tennis ball machines come with a one or two year manufacturer’s warranty for your peace of mind.