Would a ball machine help improve your game?

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Brett, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Brett

    Brett Semi-Pro

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    I am debating whether to invest like $900 bucks in a ball machine. Basically my game is trash and I need to stop playing so many matches and get back to rallying.

    Just wondering if a ball machine would help improve my game or if it would be a waste of money...

    Thanks :)
     
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  2. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    IMO, a ball machine has some excellent benefits, but, it doesn't substitute for a drilling partner. However, rallying without purpose is not an effective way to practice.

    Tennis is primarily a cross-court game. The most effective use of your time is hitting cross-court drills on both sides from the baseline, AND with one player at net. There are many variations to this drill. On clay, I like to make a line with my foot down the middle from the service line to the baseline and play points cross court. Whatever you do, the point of the drill is tp groove in your technique, footwork, shot preparation, set up, by keeping the ball in play FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. It is not to go for winners. You can make exceptions on short balls where you make contact well in front of the baseline. Then, it's ok to go for a winner into the open court because that is the high percentage opportunity to do so. If you have any time and energy after that, then you can hit some dtl drills.

    Having said that, remember that the 2 most important shots in tennis are the serve and the return. IMO, you should spend as much time on these two aspects of your game as you do on the rest of your game, combined. This is how matches are won.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2012
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  3. BobFL

    BobFL Hall of Fame

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    Absolutely not if the whole process is not guided by a competent person. "Game" is a VERY complex thing. It requires holistic approach and ball machine is very rudimentary.
     
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  4. WildVolley

    WildVolley Legend

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    I think how valuable a ball machine is depends on your situation. If you have difficulty finding a serious practice partner and still need a lot of fundamental work on stroke form and footwork, a ball machine can be a great investment. A ball machine can give you an endless amount of consistent feeds without needing to hassle another person.

    Of course, to get value out of that sort of practice, you need to take it seriously and not ingrain bad habits. I think a motivated person can use a video camera and a good hitting model to greatly improve working by themselves.
     
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  5. KenC

    KenC Professional

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    Ball machines are good for learning stroke mechanics. Once they are learned you need to move on to real tennis play.
     
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  6. ciocc

    ciocc Rookie

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    From my personal experience (I have a ball machine), ball machines are good for GROOVING stroke mechanics once you have a sound foundation. To be effective in improving your game, you need to have a good teaching pro look at your technique. You do NOT want to be good at being bad, which is exactly a ball machine can make you into if you don't have a good form to begin with.

    My 2 cents.
     
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  7. maggmaster

    maggmaster Hall of Fame

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    My opinion is that a ball machine is one of the few ways to create a purposeful practice environment for an adult on a budget. The best way is a coach working with you every day, not practical for an adult without unlimited funds. The next best would be a partner who was willing to meet every day at a certain time and drill, drill, drill, which is a tough thing to find. A ball machine can be set to work on a combination of shots, targets can be put out for accuracy and the difficulty can be increased accross three or four dimensions. These are all the things necessary for purposeful, driven practice and if you do them with an eye on improving something every session, you will get better.
     
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  8. Rozroz

    Rozroz Legend

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    i'm in the same boat on getting one.
    I completely agree with magmaster on budget considerations,
    And also on difficulty finding a consistsnt drill partner.
    My only downsides are portability.

    Btw- can someone advise me on the best budget option?
    My choice now is SP lite (tweaking a cheap remote as told in another thread).
    Also- What do i do about balls? What's my best budget option?

    Thanks.
     
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  9. dizzlmcwizzl

    dizzlmcwizzl Hall of Fame

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    I bought one ... and I now enjoy using it only about 4 times a year.

    My experience was this. Once I got it ... I used it heavy for about 6 weeks. I was using it purposefully and had developed a practice routine to work on specific shots. This was during the late winter / early spring when I wanted to get ready for outdoor league play but the weather was not nice enough to get reliable hitting partners outside. Once the weather turns nice enough I never use it.

    Now, that I can afford more indoor court time and / or have many people that will drill with me, it is more of a hassle than a benefit. If you lived close enough enough I would sell you mine real cheap.
     
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  10. Brett

    Brett Semi-Pro

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    Where do you live? Message me if you don't mind, thanks! I live just north of Nashville in Hendersonville, TN.
     
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  11. qwanta

    qwanta New User

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    Also, make sure you ask yourself the question: where will I use the ball machine? Is there a badly maintained, seldom used court somewhere nearby?

    You can't really use a ball machine on a high traffic public court, so make sure you have somewhere in mind before shelling out for one. (or determine that you're willing to get up at 6am to hit the courts while they're empty)
     
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  12. Rozroz

    Rozroz Legend

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    i have a lot of vacant courts in my club, maybe not in the evening.
    my personal problem is that i'll look like a dork as i am the only one that will come and put up a ball machine. there's absolutely ZERO usage of ball machines in Israel.
     
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  13. tennis_balla

    tennis_balla Hall of Fame

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    Do the math...

    $900 - Ball Machine
    $100 - Balls

    For $1000 you could have 25 private lessons with a coach @ $40/hr. Find a competent coach and that will change your game a hell of a lot more and sooner then lugging around a ball machine and having no input on how you're hitting the ball.
     
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  14. ZeroSkid

    ZeroSkid Banned

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    only if you know what you are doing, but it can never be as good as a hitting partner
     
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  15. saltair

    saltair New User

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    Exactly. This alone will advance your game to the point you should have no problem finding good drilling partners.

    Unless you know your strokes are already very sound, a ball machine may just reinforce some bad habits.
     
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  16. Rozroz

    Rozroz Legend

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    i already had around 1500$ worth of lessons with my coach..
    still i KNOW what stuff is still not fixed even after all those lessons.
    it's just takes a lot more time and practice i'm afraid.
    i can't afford weekly lessons anymore, so investing in a machine could keep me calm to fine-tune all those adjustments... well, i hope!
     
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  17. saltair

    saltair New User

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    I think you make a good point actually. A ball machine can certainly have its place in helping proper mechanics become ingrained.

    My regular hitting partner will sometimes take a lesson working on something specific and follow that up with an hour on the ball machine to help drive the lesson home.
     
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  18. sundaypunch

    sundaypunch Hall of Fame

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    I would agree with this logic if you were limited to spending $1000. Many people can afford the lessons and also a ball machine to drill with and groove their strokes. Also, if you are a smart shopper and spend that $900 on a decent used ball machine you should be able to recoup most of your money should you decide to sell it.

    I see a ball machine as an invaluable practice tool if you can afford one and think you will use it.
     
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  19. gindyo

    gindyo Semi-Pro

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    $40 an hour for a competent coach? This is a though one. Our local pro charges $70 and I would not call him exactly COMPETENT ( he is teaching stuff that was thought when he was growing up and he is in his 60s

    I beg to differ. 25 hours of private lessons will probably fix a couple of glitches here and there but to really improve and get to the next level one needs to hit thousands of balls, because it is one thing to do something while the coach is there holding your hand and it is completely different when you are on the match court. I really didn't want to go into this but I will list some of the advantages my ball machine gives me, and you tell me if I am wrong.
    1. The most important - I am never dependent on other people when it comes to scheduling my practice. ( with my schedule i only have an hour here and there and because of it, previous years I had missed countless opportunities to use my free time to go and practice)
    2. You will never find a partner (unless you are paying him) that will agree to feed you balls the way you want for 1-2 hours
    3. You can adjust the pace of the practice to your own liking (you can hit leisurely or you can really crank the intensity up) without having to depend on your opponent's level .
    4. It is the best way to practice your aggressive attacking patterns. example- Hit 5-10 base line shots, wait for a ball in the middle that is comfortable for attack, hit an approach shot and then finish with a volley (no partner I know will let me do this for 2 hours, unless I am paying him)
    5. The negative you guys are pointing out, that one can practice the wrong stuff without realising it, is easily resolved with a simple video camera.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2012
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  20. t135

    t135 Semi-Pro

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    There are countless benefits to practicing with a ball machine. A good hitting partner with well planned drills are best though.

    I regularly use a machine for fitness, repetition and footwork. It's hard to get people to hit when it's convenient for me. The ball machine fills in those gaps when humans aren't available. And they are ridiculously consistent hitting partners who never get tired.
     
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  21. saltair

    saltair New User

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    I see 25 hours of lessons like this:

    2 lessons a month for a year with an extra in there somewhere. Combine that with 2-3 practice matches per week and I think someone should make huge strides in their game. I could be wrong but a good coach should do a fair bit more in that time than improve a couple of glitches. Even if you reduced the number of lessons to once a month, a lot of genuine improvement could be made.

    Like everything there are so many variables here.

    Access to a good coach. Access to others of a similar playing level. The athletic ability of the person.

    So to the OP's original question my answer would be - maybe.

    Someone who is highly motivated to improve is likely to do so with a ball machine.

    Another question would be: Could someone improve more by hitting on the ball machine for a year, or by taking lessons and playing practice matches for a year?

    A lot of that answer will depend on the particular person and their own unique situation.
     
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  22. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

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    Coach, backboard, and people to hit with are primary. If you/ve got the $, a ball machine can be a good addition.
     
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  23. xsmasher

    xsmasher Rookie

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    I think a ball machine would be great, because there is no partner hitting has the consistent of the machine.
     
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  24. dizzlmcwizzl

    dizzlmcwizzl Hall of Fame

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    Delaware (10 chars)
     
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  25. tennis_balla

    tennis_balla Hall of Fame

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    Here's the kicker and hard truth. A 1 hour of lesson a week is a slow and painful process to improvement. Just like anything, the more you commit to it the better you will become.

    If you're serious about improving, take 2hrs a week of lessons plus another minimum 2 hours of hitting on your own. Taking only lessons, training only with a coach, will not do it. You need to also get out there and train on your own what you learned during your lessons.

    With a $1000 budget that you would of used for the ball machine, do some research of the coaches in your area and ask around who's got a good reputation. Talk to him realistically what your goals are and where you want to be. DO NOT tell the coach your budget, make him earn it with each lesson but both of you should have a plan as to what you're working towards.
     
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  26. maggmaster

    maggmaster Hall of Fame

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    I agree, there is no substitute for good instruction.
     
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  27. qwanta

    qwanta New User

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    I agree, but there's also no substitute for practicing long hours.

    It's not one or the other, but a combination of both that will achieve the best results.

    Often the little tips given by an instructor will make logical sense at the time they are given, but they often only fully click many days later when all the practice comes together and you actually finally experience what he meant.
     
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  28. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    I have the older version of the SP lite. I think it is a great machine. It would be nice to have a remote - but I just turn it on and run!

    I've found Steve at Silent Partner to be great with customer support.


    Don't scrimp on the balls. I can see on the Health & Fitness section you have a recent problem with pain between the shoulder blades. Don't get another problem from hitting hard pressureless tennis balls.


    If you check on the "Other Equipment" site, you will see that almost everyone recommends the Tretorn Micro-X tennis balls.

    "Unlike traditional balls, the Tretorn balls have 700 million balloon-like microcells inside them that don't leak. They keep their pressure much longer than traditional gas pressured tennis balls. We found these balls to play very similar to regular heavy duty tennis balls."
    -http://www.tennis-warehouse.com/Tretorn_Micro-X_Pressureless_Tennis_Balls_x72/descpage-TRETPRESS.html


    One area that too few practice is running to hit difficult volleys and half volleys. With a ball machine you can actually work on running to get those wide volleys and ones that are topspinning down after just clearing the net. You can work putting balls away to all four quadrants on the court without a hitting partner getting bored or mad at you. Also, it's an activity that is pretty gentle on the arm.
     
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  29. Rozroz

    Rozroz Legend

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    hello again and thanks.
    yea i also found the Tretorn x as the best option.
    but you also say pressureless are harder on the arm and back, so it's a kind of catch 22, no? or are the Tretorn relatively softer?
    anyway, it will be some time from now before i'll actually get a machine so i hope to get back stronger.

    can you also please summon up your pros/cons with the SP Lite? (besides the remote)
     
    #29
  30. Nellie

    Nellie Hall of Fame

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    Hey - I am outside of Washington DC, and may be interested in buying your machine. Send me a PM, if interested, since sales are not allowed on the boards.
     
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  31. Nellie

    Nellie Hall of Fame

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    I rent a ball machine sometimes. I think that they are great at helping you improve, if you are committed to moving when you are drilling. Too easy to stand there and wait for balls.

    I also find that when I am hitting too much with the ball machine, I look great when I am hitting balls in my sweet spot (waist height), but am I am way slow to short, junk balls
     
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  32. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Hall of Fame

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    Sadly both ball machine and wall hitting are more useful for good players with a solid foundation. What's sad about that is good players 4.0+ have little need for this as they are sought after to play with..

    My advice - get a dunlop speedball and hit against a wall. This will give you most of the benefits of a ball machine at a fraction of the price. Spend the rest of the grand on real life lessons.
     
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  33. maggmaster

    maggmaster Hall of Fame

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    One of the most important parts of practice is consistency. You have to be able to do it every day(Or almost every day), and most people will just not be able to find a player to play with every day. The balll machine is great for filling in the gaps between players.
     
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  34. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Hall of Fame

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    Ball machine plans

    I just ordered a Silent Partner Lite-R (remote).

    However, I really don't want to practice very much and that is an issue for me.

    What I want to do is find and imitate better forehand and backhand stroking techniques. Most important I want to take high speed video of my strokes so that I don't practice the wrong technique. High speed video is the best on-the-spot feedback technique if you can see what the video shows. Video some forehands and look at the strokes, etc. The ball machine with remote seems ideal for doing high speed video most efficiently.

    Later, I can practice with machine oscillation and heavier pace so that I could use the new strokes in my matches. I'd like to minimize that type of practice as playing is enough tennis for me.

    Lessons, my experience. I took group lessons for about 5 years, estimating total of over 100 1.5 hour lessons, typically 3-5 people with 3 of them weekly regulars. The instructor was very knowledgeable, entertaining and likeable, a great instructor. The weekly lessons usually emphasized a given stroke technique for perhaps only 1 hour total over two lessons. I learned a lot in the first 6 months. Always very enjoyable but the 1 hour was not enough time for muscle memory to become ingrained. Practice on my own? - I was uncertain of some points and had no means of feedback. I asked if the instructor could lengthen the time spent on each stroking technique. For example, 2.5 hours total over, say, 4 lessons. He said that did not work in a group lesson but required a private lesson. Private lessons are outside my budget................ Once I spend some hours concentrating on the backhand and forehand I hope to take some more lessons again from the same instructor for pointers and entertainment.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2012
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  35. Rozroz

    Rozroz Legend

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    cannot agree more!
    are you gonna buy pressureless balls?
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2012
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  36. Kevo

    Kevo Hall of Fame

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    I think a ball machine can be great for practice. I use mine to get a full workout. I set it up to oscillate and dial the feed rate to about 4 seconds or less. My basket holds 70 balls, and I've rarely ever hit more than 10 in a rally in a real match. With the ball machine I can run side to side and hit as many balls as I can physically handle. It's great for practice and fitness. I can set it for low shots or high loopy shots that need to be hit on the rise. I think it's a pretty nice thing to have.

    The thing is you do need to have some idea of how to use it properly. I've seen some people with machines that have it set up to throw 40mph gum drops to the same place on the court over and over again. They stand at the baseline not moving their feet and hit the same poorly developed stroke over and over. This is really worse than no practice at all IMO, because they are deeply ingraining bad habits that will trouble them for a long time.
     
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  37. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Hall of Fame

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    Not until I try the balls that I have in my serving basket, etc. I might separate them a little based on the diameter since the tolerance in the diameter is over 0.1".
     
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  38. Avles

    Avles Hall of Fame

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    I've found a ball machine helpful for practicing volleys. I can't think of another way to pile up the reps on those besides paying someone to feed you or finding a practice partner who wants to volley back and forth (easier said than done).

    I rented the machine at $5 an hour so it was a lot more affordable than a lesson. And fun! If I owned my own machine I think I'd be practicing volleys all the time.
     
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  39. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    Pros
    Easily transportable.
    Battery easy to change. (older model)
    Great range of speeds.
    Great range of spins (top and slice).
    Great customer support.
    Good range of time interval between shots.
    Great exercise to run and pick up all the balls as fast as possible.

    Cons
    With machine on top of a cart, still not perfect replica to practice returns.



    As one becomes more advanced, the ball machine still can be valuable to practice any shot that gives you difficulty. (Count on your opponent to remind you in every match what shots you still have difficulty with):

    Trouble with hard topspin/slice shots to the corners? Practice getting to the ball and hitting it to a definite target (cross court or down the line), recovering, and hitting the next one.

    Trouble with short, low, slices? Practice getting in, hitting slice CC or DTL.

    Trouble with your first volley playing serve and volley? Run in from the baseline and hit that volley off your shoe tops at the service line again and again.

    Have trouble with your reaction time on the stab volley? Bring the machine in closer and closer and fire it faster and faster with more and more topspin.

    Have trouble reaching those volleys on passing shots down the line or cross court? Come out of your split step to take the extra step to get to that ball, and do it over and over again as you increase the speed and topspin on the ball.

    Actually miss an overhead? Practice more.

    Playing Rafa at the French Open and want to work on hard loopy shots to your one hand back hand? Work on it until your backhand is a weapon.

    Lost that 3rd set tiebreaker because your tweener needs work? ...
     
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  40. TennisCJC

    TennisCJC Legend

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    I owned a machine for about 5-6 years and really enjoyed it. If you know what you are doing it can help groove strokes. Be sure to take a few lessons or study books and videos and strive to groove good technique.
     
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  41. West Coast Ace

    West Coast Ace G.O.A.T.

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    I'm with you. The ball machine is always ready for a workout. And a great tool when used properly. I do question his $900 - there are plenty of decent ones for much less. The one negative is I haven't seen a machine that will emulate really heavy topspin - so if you play at an advanced level you're not going to be ready for 'live fire' from just hitting with the machine.

    OP needs to give us more info: just saying your game isn't very good right now doesn't give us much to go on. What level do you play at normally and how far have you dropped?
     
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  42. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Hall of Fame

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    By that do you mean the the height of the shot starts out very low?

    All of the machines I guess use a form of gravity ball feed from the hopper which places the shooting mechanism pretty low. The ball firing height in my new SP Lite-R is about 12". The ball will shoot from a considerably lower height than the average stroke height.

    Very impressed with the design and workmanship of the ball machine.
     
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  43. WildVolley

    WildVolley Legend

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    I strongly disagree with this. I've played against Division 1 players and the playmate machine I used to use for my team could easily match or exceed the topspin that was hit.

    In my experience, what a machine has difficulty matching is the raw speed of a top player. A former division 1 player I sometimes play could bring over 115mph on his serve, and I haven't seen a machine that is able to match those speeds.
     
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  44. t135

    t135 Semi-Pro

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    Yeah the good ones can put ridiculous spin on the ball. And impressive speed...a heavy ball. I've never put a radar on one, but if you're in need of pro level ball speeds (100-120 mph), you aren't going to be looking for a ball machine.

    Don't over think it man. Just find a club or tennis center where you can rent a good one for an hour and see what you think. They are great fun and a great workout.
     
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  45. thebuffman

    thebuffman Professional

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    OP, i LOVE! my ball machine. I purchased my Silent Partner Lite back in Dec of 08' and still use it til today. I am on my 3rd battery with it and have certainly gotten my $450 worth out of it. The only thing you want to be certain you do is not groove bad technique. Its best to pay $70/hour with a coach to go over technique and then pull out the ball machine to groove that technique over and over again. Also, there many times I could not find a hitting partner and my trusty bm was there waiting everytime. Plus it is ready morning, noon or nite and I don't have to sign it out or worry about getting it back to some rental place on time.

    Here is a video of me grooving my backhand. Because of my bm I can honestly say that my 1hbh is more dangerous than forehand. Opponents familiar with my game wont even charge the net behind hitting to my backhand. 80% of the time they will get passed or dipped. The racquet from my backhand side feels more like a scapel than a racquet and I really attribute it to countless of hours of hitting against my ball machine.

    I once paid for a good 8+ hours of coaching from a prominent coach. He asked me, "what wing do you think is your strongest?" I told him, "my backhand". He nodded and and smiled because we both knew why he never spent much time on my 1hbh except for its footwork. I pretty much learned from these boards and FYB how to properly hit the 1hbh and drilled it for hours on my ball machine. What is funny is that I find myself stepping around my forehand to hit my 1hbh on serve returns! That is the sort of confidence I have with this stroke.

    All from stroking that ball machine. I am not saying that my forehand aint a weapon. I hit with tremendous spin and power from it but the 1hbh give me all of that PLUS the touch. The 1hbh is the most beautiful song played with a racquet layered with so much poetic dimension. Drop, Slice, Chip, Short Angle Spin, Deep CC Spin, continental grip change for the half volley pickup while moving to net....on and on and on it is poetry in motion. I've drilled all of these shots with the ball machine. Now I decide what I want to do to my opponent when they hit to my backhand especially against the younger players who LOVE pace. I start mixing it up from the backhand wing by giving them 1 dose of hard pace, 2 doses of slice and then a short chip to see what they do with it. 9 times out of 10 their backhands are so under-developed they don't know how to reply other than lift a short ball to my forehand. All of this from drilling my bm.

    sorry for the soliloquy....i got caught up. after being away from the sport for 8 months resting my shoulder, being back feels so good. God bless you my friend.
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2012
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  46. gindyo

    gindyo Semi-Pro

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    LOL this is a man in loveeee with his bm, and I hear you. I feel the same way about mine :)
     
    #46
  47. charliefedererer

    charliefedererer Legend

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    Feb 13, 2009
    Messages:
    5,639
    [​IMG]

    I bought a tray cart like this from Sears; Harbor Freight and other sites have similar models.

    Having the ball machine at a higher level means you don't have to move it so far off the court as you increase the ball speed to near maximal. Just also crank up the topspin.

    I find the ball coming from this height as a more realistic mimic of ground strokes for practicing ground strokes, volleys and serve returns.
     
    #47
  48. tank_job

    tank_job Banned

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2012
    Messages:
    991
    Is tennis primarily a cross-court game just because the net is like 0.5ft higher down the line as opposed to the middle, so you're more likely to hit the net? If so, why don't heavy topspin players like Nadal with massive topspin and net clearance just go down the line all the time?
     
    #48
  49. gindyo

    gindyo Semi-Pro

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2007
    Messages:
    435
    since I only have a sedan and don't have room for a cart like this, I use the bucket from my pressure-less balls it gives me extra 15 inches for a total of about 30" (and it is stable enough, when you remove the lid) , which is more realistic height, then the 15" from the machine alone. Only problem was that over time machine will move slightly and will start shooting the balls out, but an old t-shirt between the machine and the bucket solved that problem
     
    #49
  50. Kevo

    Kevo Hall of Fame

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2005
    Messages:
    4,157
    It's not just the net height, it's the geometry.

    CC allows you to pull a player farther out of the court.
    CC gives you more length of court to hit into.
    CC has more margin for error since the ball is hit back into the court.
    CC has more margin because the ball is being sent back in the direction it came. Less chance for deflection error.
    DTL without being set up first leaves you open for the CC shot, which when hit will force a defensive reply and leave you open for CC to the other side.

    DTL is a great shot to have, but it needs to be used appropriately.
     
    #50

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