Okay So You’ve Got a Ball Machine, Now What?

After the novelty wears off of having a partner to hit with whenever you want, never gives up and never gives excuses, you’ll be looking for ideas of how to actually use your ball machine to improve your game.   That’s what this article is about.

 If you’ve ever read Andre Agassi’s autobiography you may recall his references to the Red Dragon. That’s what he called the ball machine his father forced him to practice with every day.  Ball machines have come along way since then and are now an indispensible tool for honing your skill at just about every stroke in the game.  But you still have to know how to use it to get the best results.

Take the Lobster for instance; here is a machine that is programmable for shots of varying length, width and speed.  You can of course just hit endless forehands and backhands to improve your depth and precision but that doesn’t simulate what happens in a game when the shots come at you with little predictability.  So in this case a machine that varies the shots would be a great training asset especially if you have no idea what’s coming next.

5 Ways to Use Your Ball Machine Most Effectively

  1. Make a list of your weakest shots, not much point in just practicing what you’re already good at.  Once you’ve got your list, practice hitting that particular stroke with 100 shots at a time. Then go onto your next weakest stroke and also hit 100 shots.  Repeat with each stroke on your list until you’ve hit at minimum 200 shots each. This should take no longer than 1 hour performed 3 days a week.  Be sure you’re not practicing a bad habit; your technique should already be sound.
  2. On non-stroke improvement days you want to work on your conditioning.  Use the machine to vary the shots from short to long and from side-to-side.  This is all about footwork and getting to the ball quickly.  Do this in 5-minute intervals for 5 sets with a 1-minute rest in between sets.  This type of conditioning, performed at least twice a week, will help you get to balls quicker and be ready to make those great shots you have been practicing.
  3. Move the machine around the court to vary the angle the ball is coming at you from and the angle you’re returning it to. For instance, place the machine on the far baseline at the corner of the court and practice returning shots directly back at that angle (25 shots to your forehand side).  After that practice returning your shots directly down your forehand-side sideline (25 shots).  Next alternate your returns from sideline to cross- court (times 25).  This way you’re varying the height of the net you’re hitting over (it’s lower in the middle) and you have to adjust the positioning of your body to change the direction of the ball you’re hitting.  Repeat all drills on your backhand side.
  4. If your machine is capable of programming in a sequence of shots that simulate a game-type rally then it’s time to really ramp up your training. In a typical rally you would serve then return the return of serve, wait for a shorter shot then come in and hit your approach shot.  Of course sometimes depending on the strength of your serve, that alone could be your approach shot.  This would mean hitting a serve and coming right into the net behind it to hit a winning volley.  If you have a “Lobster Ball” machine these scenarios are completely programmable.
  5. This last drill is for the advanced players.  Set the machine on random oscillation from various points on the court.  This will force you to be always thinking about your footwork and timing.  Now practice specific shot combinations using the spin feature on the machine.  Now you’re simulating topspin or backspin on shots you then have to return.  For example, hit a couple of ground strokes then an approach shot followed by a couple of volleys.  Practice this sequence and throw in some lobs with the ball machine placed at various points around the court.  You’ve got service lines, baselines, center service lines and sidelines to work with.

Always be on the lookout for new ways to enjoy your tennis ball machine by simulating shot sequences you see professionals play in tournaments.


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