We all have one.The perfect hitting partner willing to spend countless hours feeding you balls to the left, balls to the right, lobs for an hour, topspins for another hour.
It doesn’t matter what hour, either. Days, nights, weekends, Christmas...he always available for you.
What? You don’t have a partner like that? Well then this article about the top five tennis ball machines is just for you.
Know Your Options
Today’s machines can do it all. Need the machine to spin the ball? Okay. Want the machine to fire the balls at you with varying speeds? Okay. Want the machine to grab you a cold beverage? Well, you may have to get that yourself for now.
We are going to show you our picks for the five best tennis ball machines, but there are a lot of things to think about when you are trying to find the machine that’s best for you.
Let’s look at some of them right now:
- Size and weight. It’s easy to fall in love with the biggest and baddest ball machines out there. Just remember that you have to store your new partner somewhere safe at night. You want to make sure you can move it back and forth from wherever you practice as well as whether it will fit in your garage or shelter.
- Ball capacity. 300 balls sounds great. You’ll never have to fill the machine again! But think about how many balls you can realistically hit before your arms feel like they are going to fall off. Maybe being forced to take a break after a hundred or two hundred hits wouldn’t be so bad. You know...just to collect the balls and reload the machine.
- Power source and battery life. If you know you will always be practicing in a club or private location with electricity, you can save some money with an electric machine. If you practice in parks, you probably need a battery. A battery life of four hours will cost more than two. You also want to consider recharge time and whether the charger turns off automatically.
- Propulsion. There are two types of propulsion in tennis ball machines. One type is a spinning wheel propulsion which squeezes the ball out between two spinning wheels. The other is air pressure propulsion which literally shoots the ball using air pressure (like a tee-shirt gun.). The type of propulsion will affect some of the other options, such as spin and velocity.
- Remote control. Many machines provide remote control. A few provide an app for your phone. Either option allows you to avoid walking around the net every time you want to make an adjustment or just turn the machine off for a few minutes without wasting balls.
There are also variable “playing” options you may want to look for. Some of these include:
- Oscillation and elevation. Oscillation is the amount of sideways range the machine has.Some machines have range, but once you set the shot, that is where the ball is going until you reset it. More expensive machines may rotate the location in a pattern or randomly for a more realistic practice. Changing the elevation can alter the depth and speed of the ball for your practice needs.
- Feed rate and top speed. How often and how fast will the balls come at you? Most machines can vary the speed of the balls between 20 and 80 miles-per-hour. Some top-line units can get to over 100 MPH. Feed rates can range from two to ten seconds between balls. Depending on whether you want to simulate a game or just practice a particular shot over and over, there is a right combination for you.
- Topspin and backspin. The most common way to improve your game is to add spin to your shots. Unfortunately, your opponents are trying to do the same thing. Many tennis ball machines can add topspin or backspin to the shots it delivers so that you can be ready for even your craftiest opponent.
All of these things can be considered when you buy a machine. Prices vary accordingly and can range from several hundred dollars to $5,000 for the most realistic experience-providing machine. With all these things in mind, we decided these are the five best tennis ball machines for the typical up-and-coming tennis player in your household.
1. Spinshot-Plus Tennis Ball Machine. The Spinshot-Plus is a relatively light, programmable machine that offers an I-phone or Android phone app to remotely adjust during a practice. While not the most powerful unit out there, it offers good battery life and wide spectrum of play adjustments.
- Speed variations from 5-to 60 mph.
- Topspin and backspin options are nice, but just like a real player, the speed will be diminished with spin.
- Remote through the phone is cool, but you need a wifi connection to use it.
- The battery-operated unit weighs about 45 pounds. The unit comes with low and small wheels, but is still easy to move about.
- Battery life is over three hours. (None of our testers played any longer than that.) Battery recharger is included and there is an optional AC adapter you can purchase which installs easily.
- Variable oscillation settings can be adjusted through the phone app from across the net. This unit features horizontal and vertical random movement or patterned movement.
2. Lobster Sports Elite 2 Portable Tennis Ball Machine. Lobster makes several of the most popular ball machines thanks to their reputation as reliable and cost-effective machines. Their Sports Elite 2 is their current best seller, offering great play variations and long battery life at a low-to-mid range price.
- The Elite 2 offers vertical and horizontal variability in a random pattern that allows you to practice your deep game and short game in a more realistic scenario.
- This unit can feed you 50-degree overhead lobs, an option they claim is exclusive to the Elite 2.
- Speed can range from 20-to-80 mph and can be varied during practice for a more realistic experience.
- Offers backspin and topspin
- One of the big knocks on this unit is that the handles are not well-designed for lifting in and out of a car. Several people mentioned the strain on their back.
- The other is that its standard charger is an outdated style that can fry the battery if you don’t manually turn it off when charged. The company does offer a $100 upgraded charger that will solve this problem.
3. Lobster Sports Grand V Tennis ball Machine. This machine could be the top machine except that it is probably too much for the average recreational player. The Grand V offers the widest range of practice variables along with the usual Lobster reliability and cost control.
- The Grand V comes with twelve pre-programmed practice regimens designed to mimic the three most popular styles of opponents. (including Grinder, Power baseliner, All-courter, Forehand-plus, Attack-defend and Transition settings.)
- This unit can adjust speeds, horizontal and vertical oscillation and spin variations with a top speed of 80 mph.
- Comes with a one-amp charger. Lobster offers a three-amp charger and a $300- remote control as optional accessories.
- The Grand V is lighter and easier to move than comparably-optioned machines. It still has the ergonomics issue with the handles.
4. Lobster Sports Elite Liberty Tennis ball Machine. This compact version of the Elite offers several of the features of the Elite class at a lower cost. It is slightly more expensive than the Elite Freedom, which is basically the same machine without spin control.
- Offers topspin and backspin options.
- Offers horizontal oscillation including a back-and-forth option. Reviewers like this option for when two people are practicing. Using it a a singles player will quickly tire you out.
- The reason it will tire you out is that although the manufacturer states feed times can range to ten seconds, reality says it is closer to five seconds.
- Placement is fairly consistent, but not exact. Each shot lands within three feet of the previous shot.
- Easily moveable and storable.
- Excellent battery life of 4-6 hours.
5. Wilson Ball Machine with Remote and 2-Line. Wilson tennis offers this mid-priced, compact unit for beginners to intermediate players. The two-line refers to a right-left alternate shot option that allows two players to practice at the same time.
- At only 38 pounds and the size of a carry-on bag, this unit is extremely portable. Its built-in wheels and handle enhance the ease of transport.
- Speeds range from 10 to 70 mph with variable trajectories.
- Random oscillation, spin control, adjustable speed and feed rate managed through a user-friendly control board.
- The remote is small enough to fit in your pocket, allowing you to turn the unit off or adjust the horizontal oscillation from anywhere on the court.
- Offers a longer warranty than most competitors.
- 3-4 hours of battery life with recharger included.
So there you have our picks for the top five tennis ball machines. We believe you’ll find a good match for your game among these units, so head on out and buy your perfect partner soon!
And don’t forget to give her a name. The machine will like that.