Finding yourself alone when needing a good tennis practice session?
Life can get in the way and sometimes your friend or better half can’t make it to practice. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid practice altogether.
One of the best ways to practice your tennis game is with a tennis ball machine.
Using a ball machine can take some getting used to, but don’t worry – we’ll cover many reasons why it might be the best tool in your arsenal. We’ll also review the best tennis drills to build confidence and consistency in your skills.
You can hit against a backboard if you want, but a tennis ball machine has clear advantages and proves to be the best way to practice tennis alone.
5 Benefits of Tennis Ball Machines
Tennis ball machines aren’t cheap so being hesitant about buying one makes sense.
Do your research and decide if it’s the best option for you. However, know that there are so many advantages to using one.
Tennis ball machines can help you train better than ever with the following benefits.
On the tennis court, consistency is key. You always hear the phrase “make them hit one more shot.”
Being a consistent player with groundstrokes and volleys you can count on allows you to stay in points and give yourself more opportunities for success.
Tennis ball machines help you achieve consistency because you can get the same feed over and over again and just swing away at the feeds coming your way. (It can get very boring to hit the same ball over and over again. Ball machines have many settings so you don’t HAVE to hit the same kind of shot over and over, but you could.)
With all the different modes that you can set the machine to, there’s no shortage of different speeds and different modes to try out.
When playing with a partner, there’s a good chance that every 3-5 shots, one of you will make a mistake.
A machine doesn’t make mistakes — it just feed balls to you until the hopper is empty.
Hitting many balls in a practice session will allow you to hone your strokes and achieve the consistency level desired.
#2 Endurance Training
Tennis ball machines are just that — machines.
As long as there’s power (battery or plugged in), they can go and go and go.
It’s very likely that you’ll tire out before the machine will.
Having a ball machine feed what feels like an endless supply of tennis balls will certainly increase your endurance level to simulate long matches.
A tennis ball machine aids you in endurance training by just relentlessly firing tennis balls your way.
Your job is to keep up by continuing to hit away!
#3 Repetition Helps With Skill Mastery
Repetition is how you become a master in something.
Your innate skill is only going to get you so far.
Putting in the hours to train your muscles and groove your groundstrokes will pay dividends in match play.
There’s no way around it — you just have to put in the work.
Tennis ball machines excel at repetition. They’ll fire balls at you for hours allowing you to hit shot after shot after shot.
Repeating the same thing over and over again allows you to learn it to a T.
Sure, your opponents aren’t going to hit balls the way a machine does, but if you’re confident in your groundstrokes during practice, you’ll be confident in matches as well.
#4 Playing Solo Anytime You Want
#5 Save on Club Costs
Tennis clubs can be pricey. Even if you’re a member of one you still have to have someone to play with.
You could pay for a hitting lesson.
At $50-$70 an hour, that’s an investment as well.
Many clubs have ball machines that you can rent, but there’s a fee for the machine on top of your regular monthly/annual fees.
If you have one of your own, you pay once and use it as often as you’d like without additional fees.
6 Drills for Practicing Tennis with a Ball Machine
Having a ball machine is great. You could set it to feed you balls in the middle of the court and hit hopper after hopper after hopper and increase your skills.
However, some variety in tennis drills that better simulate match play might be a better approach.
If your crosscourt forehand is incredible it’s fun to hit them all afternoon. But hitting forehands isn’t going to make your backhand approach shot any better.
It won’t get you used to hitting down the line backhands.
Your volleys won’t be more dependable.
Hitting topspin groundstrokes is fun, but unless you regularly practice your slice shots as well, they won’t improve.
Using a ball machine to hit your favorite and most consistent shots is great. But using it to hone your skills that aren’t as good is really where they can be beneficial.
Here are the 6 best drills you can do with tennis ball machines so you can practice tennis for hours on end.
#1 Narrow Margin
A tennis court is a large space — until you’re close to the lines and the ball goes out. Becoming familiar with a small space and aiming for a specific area will really amp up your confidence and consistency.
The goal of this drill is to consistently hit ground strokes into the alley. Using a narrow place to focus on causes you to really think about each shot. Power isn’t your focus — placement is.
- For the sake of your ball machine, put it just outside the doubles alley and have it feed balls to you on the opposite side of the court in the same alley. (Having your machine just outside the area should protect it as it isn’t in the target zone.)
- The speed of the feed should be slow to moderate.
- Work on both forehands and backhands (individually) until you can hit 10 successive balls of each groundstroke into the alley.
#2 Back and Forth
Footwork is key to setting up to hit both forehands and backhands. Watch Federer and Nadal on tv and you’ll see them taking small steps to ensure their body placement is correct before knocking off a shot.
The goal of this drill is to hit forehands and backhands (every other shot) by running around the feed.
- Place your ball machine midcourt beyond the service line.
- Set the machine to feed directly up the center of the court with moderate pace.
- With your first fed ball, hit a forehand. With the second fed ball, focus on small steps to move to the opposite side of the feed and hit a backhand.
Initially the goal is just to get the ball back over the net and inside the court. As you improve, use cones to target specific areas of the court.
By using the same feed, you’re forced to move TO the ball. In addition to improving your footwork, your fitness will also improve.
#3 Cross Court / Down the Line
No matter where you are in the court, being able to hit clean shots cross court or down the line is important.
The goal of this drill is to hit forehands or backhands (focus on one stroke at a time) cross court and then down the line — repeating over and over.
- Place your ball machine in the doubles alley.
- Set the machine to feed the ball to the corner of the court (within the lines) with moderate pace.
- If focusing on forehands, hit the first feed down the line almost hitting the ball machine.
- With the next shot, hit a crosscourt forehand.
- Repeat the drill going back and forth between down the line and cross court forehands.
- Switch the machine setup to the other doubles alley and repeat the drill for backhands.
This drill will help get you into a zone for feeling comfortable hitting both forehands and backhands cross court or down the line. Repetition will provide familiarity and confidence for your next tennis match.
#4 Stuck Behind the Baseline
Though a tennis court is large, we often find ourselves hitting shots only to mid court.
Depth isn’t always your goal, but when you don’t take advantage of the entire court, you give your opponent the opportunity to do so.
By focusing on getting each groundstroke deep into the court, you’re being a tennis player on the offensive player rather than a defensive tennis player.
The goal of this drill is to hit balls deep into the back of the court. Either visually think of hitting more than halfway in the area between the service line and baseline or put cones on the court to give you a target to hit beyond.
You can play with varying speed of the shot, but power isn’t your primary focus — hitting deep into the court is.
- Place your ball machine at the T in the service area.
- Set the machine to feed to either the deuce or ad side of the court with a comfortable pace for you to hit.
- Focus on clearing the net with ease (aim high) so as to ensure that your stroke hits the targeted area.
- Work on both forehands and backhands (individually) until you can hit 10 successive balls of each groundstroke into the back of the court.
#5 The Approacher
In singles many people stay in the back court and trade groundstrokes for hours.
In doubles you’re often AT the net and don’t have to worry about transitioning to the net.
When given a short ball without a lot of pace, the approach shot is key to getting you into the net so you can volley and put the point away.
- Place your ball machine at the T in the service area.
- Set the machine to feed a short ball (right around the service box) without much pace. (During a point you’ll likely be at the baseline when a ball of this nature comes over the net.)
- Focus on hitting your approach shot down the line. Rather than immediately retreating, follow up the approach shot with hitting a volley.
- Make sure there’s enough time between feeds for you to get up to the ball, hit the approach shot, hit the volley and then retreat to the baseline to await the next feed.
Focus on ball placement deep into the court to pin your opponent at or behind the baseline.
This is a great drill for precision, depth and fitness.
#6 The Overhead
The overhead replicates a serve, but isn’t only hit from the baseline. Mistakes are often made in matches when hitting overheads and likely because they aren’t practiced much.
Take some time and become comfortable hitting overheads.
- Place your ball machine midcourt just beyond the service line.
- Set the machine to feed high lobs that would land (if you let them bounce) around the service T. (Give yourself some time between feeds.)
- With the first feed, hit your overhead. When done hitting the overhead, run up to the net and tap it with your racket.
- Move back into the drill starting position.
The goal is to be comfortable hitting your overheads deep or with sharp angles.
Hitting a shallow overhead that pulls your opponent far off the court might be unreturnable.
Get comfortable hitting your overheads to multiple places in the court.
Pro Tip: Aside from the Overhead, the drills outlined above can be used to practice volleys in addition to groundstrokes or approach shots.
Like the overhead, volleys are often forgotten.
Sharpen your skills so you won’t be intimidated the next time you find yourself at the net.
Practice hitting both forehand and backhand volleys. Focus on hitting to different places and throughout the court.
Knowing you have a solid volley will give you the confidence to venture to the net and start ending points quickly.
Solo Training for the Big Day
Ready for your next match?
We’ve covered many reasons why it might be a good idea to get a ball machine as well as provided some key drills to get you going.
All that’s left to do is put in the time and effort. You’ve got this.
Practice the drills we’ve outlined, and you’ll see tremendous improvements in your confidence, fitness and overall performance.
Tennis requires a lot of time to be comfortable on court to really swing out with your strokes.
A ball machine is definitely a tool that will help you practice your tennis skill progression — and you CAN do it alone!