Buying a new tennis ball machine can be a daunting experience, especially if you are unfamiliar with some of the terminology used. When selecting a tennis ball machine, it’s important to strike a good balance between the skill challenges offered by the machine and your budget. A beginner using one of the more advanced machines may find the range of features and level of skill required overwhelming. On the other hand, an advanced player using one of the more basic machines may not be challenged enough to improve.
The range of features on offer will vary depending on the make, model and perhaps more importantly, your budget.
Here we’ll try and clarify some of the important terms that you’ll come across when selecting your new tennis ball machine in our handy glossary of definitions.
2-Line Facility – A feature that delivers the same shot, alternating between forehand and backhand.
3-State Charger – The ultimate smart charger that intelligently senses the state of the battery and adjusts itself to maximise charge and life of the battery.
Ball Elevation – The vertical angles at which the machine can eject balls. Higher elevations will allow the machine to better recreate lobs.
Ball Interval – The rate at which balls are ejected from the machine. This interval is usually adjustable by the user between approximately 2 and 15 seconds.
Ball Speed – See Ejection Speed.
Continuous Time – See Running Time.
Drills – Pre-programmed sequences of shots that simulate certain types of player. More advanced tennis ball machines will even let you program your own drills.
Dual Oscillator – See Oscillator.
Ejection Speed – The speed in miles per hour that tennis balls will leave the machine. Usually indicated as a minimum and maximum ejection speed. Speeds can vary greatly between machines. Lower speeds will be suitable for beginners, whereas intermediate and advanced players will be looking for a machine capable of serving shots at much higher speeds. Indicated ‘maximum’ speeds are for balls ejected from the machine with no spin applied.
Hopper Capacity – The number of balls the machine will hold during use. Larger ball hopper capacities will mean that the time between refills is less, allowing you to spend more time practicing.
Horizontal Oscillation – See Oscillator.
On Court Time – See Running Time.
Oscillator – The Oscillator allows a machine to spread balls around the court, rather than consistently firing in a fixed direction. Horizontal oscillation or single oscillation, is a side to side motion, allowing the machine to aim at points across the width of the court. Vertical oscillation is an up and down motion that gives additional height to a delivery or allows the ball to just skim the top of the net. A machine with Horizontal and Vertical Oscillation capabilities is commonly referred to as having Dual Oscillation. Finally, Triple Oscillation, which is a combination of both motions used simultaneously, allows the machine to serve balls to any random point on the court.
Pressureless Tennis Balls – See Unpressurised Tennis Balls.
Remote Control – Tennis ball machines that come with a wireless remote control will allow the machine to be controlled by the player from the other side of the court. Basic remotes will allow the user to start and stop the machine ejecting balls, but more advanced remote controls lets the user change settings for spin, speed, feed rates, ball elevation and more without the need to walk over to the machine each time.
Running Time – Often quoted as Continuous Running Time and On-Court Time. Continuous time is calculated as if the machine was constantly being refilled, allowing the user to continuously practice without a break. In reality, there will be some ‘down-time’, as ‘used’ balls are retrieved from around the tennis court, the machine is refilled and the player rests etc. The On-Court Time takes these breaks into account and is a more realistic representation of expectations when using a tennis ball machine.
Single Oscillator – See Oscillator.
Smart Charging – A smart charger will sense when the battery is full and automatically stop to prevent overcharging.
Spin – The ability to apply spin to a ball, either top-spin or back-spin to create a more challenging delivery.
Triple Oscillator – See Oscillator.
Unpressurised Tennis Balls – Regulation tennis balls used for matches are sold in pressurised cans, with the ball itself filled with nitrogen or air at an equal pressure to that of the can. As soon as the can is opened, balls gradually begin to lose their bounce and become softer. Unpressurised / pressureless balls should be used with tennis ball machines as they don’t lose their bounce over time and provide much more consistent results that are suitable for practice use.
Vertical Oscillation – See Oscillator.