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Are you looking to improve your tennis level? To improve the consistency of your returns or to brush up for competition season?
A tennis ball machine can give you independence and motivation, since it allows you to practice without the need for a hitting partner or coach.
But if you’ve looked into buying a machine for yourself, you’ve probably seen that it’s a serious investment.
Will the difference in your training be enough to justify the expense? Are tennis ball machines worth it?
Exactly how much do tennis ball machines improve your game?
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of practicing with a tennis ball machine, so that you can decide whether or not it’s a smart purchase for you.
In addition, we’ll discuss the best approach to using a tennis ball machine in order to get the best results for your game.
Independence and consistency
The biggest factor in favor of having your own tennis ball machine is that it makes it possible to practice when, where, and how you want.
If you’re reading this article you probably don’t have a private coach at your disposal, and it can be hard getting your busy schedule to align with that of a partner.
Especially if you’re a solitary type, practicing with a machine can be almost therapeutic, giving you time to find a rhythm and enter a state of flow.
There are without question certain limitations to tennis ball machines, but when used to its advantages the benefits are numerous.
Options to consider
Machines can vary a great deal with respect to the features available, but a decent tennis ball machine will give you functions to control speed, frequency, ballspin, and angle of delivery.
Some machines will take a bit more effort to adjust, while higher-end models can be programmed to alternate shots, to fire at random, or can be repositioned via remote control.
But a lot of these features are dispensable, since the biggest reason to use a tennis ball machine is to work on consistency, and above all to target specific weaknesses in your game.
Position the machine to feed you lobs, cross-court shots, forehands or backhands depending on what you need, set the frequency slow enough that you can approach each shot with proper footwork, and drill the shot until you have it completely dialed.
With a human partner it’s impossible to rule out slight inconsistencies, but when you practice a certain shot against a machine you can be sure that the only variable at play is you.
This gives you a way of tracking consistency more precisely, and you can pinpoint a weakness in your game down to the smallest detail.
But this of course takes good self knowledge and discipline when practicing.
If you work sloppily with the machine you’ll simply engrain bad technique, and if you lack self-awareness you may be wasting your time.
Of course a tennis ball machine is not a complete training tool. No matter how many features your machine has, it will never be a substitute for a real partner.
The only way to learn strategy, mental strength, and reaction speed is by playing against a real partner who can challenge you.
In most aspects of the game, actually playing is the best way to improve.
Some machines may try to fool you with nozzle misdirection, and do their best to simulate actual game play, but this is not the forte of a machine, and experts suggest it is not the best way to improve.
Add to this the sometimes restrictive cost of these machines, which could be spent elsewhere on coaching or personal training.
And finally, while a tennis ball machine can feed you balls quickly, it also means going around the court to collect just as many.
If you’re getting a machine you may also want to get yourself a hopper, either manual or electric, to save your time and your lower back.
Do tennis ball machines improve your game?
If you have the choice of getting your own tennis ball machine (or splitting one with a friend), it could definitely provide added value to your practice time.
You can practice whenever you want without being reliant on anyone else.
But ball machines are not right for every player, nor for every kind of practice.
If you are independently motivated and good at self-analysis a ball machine is a huge asset.
It’s the ideal way to practice consistency and form and to isolate specific weaknesses.
But if you’re someone who thrives on competition, interaction, or someone who has a tendency to lapse into lazy technique, a ball machine could be bad for motivation or could even damage your form.
Furthermore, drilling with a machine is far from a complete training regimen, as it won’t improve your strategy or court awareness (don’t let the fancy features fool you).
Practicing with a machine also requires some grunt work, walking across the court and picking up balls when the machine is empty.
Last of all, not every machine is the same.
When shopping, decide which features are indispensable to you (e.g. max speed, spin options, programmable alternation or remote control), and which are unnecessary gimmicks that will only jack up the price.
If the court where you practice is far from a power source, make sure the model you get gives you the battery life you need.
In general, a tennis ball machine won’t do the work for you; you need to put in the time and have discipline and self-awareness.
But when used properly a tennis ball machine can be an amazing asset, and for this reason it’s become a staple of many great players’ training routines.