Best 8: Ball machines

Consistency, consistency, consistency. The very best players are super consistent and make their shots better than 8 out of 10 times. Their ability to deliver at critical moments gives them the freedom to play their own game with the confidence honed from thousands of hours spent on the tennis court.

The challenge for junior and recreational players who wish to reach their potential is to find hitting partners that have the necessary right skill levels and willingness to co-operate in this kind of practice. So many players just want to turn up and play.  While ball machines can never be the whole answer, integrating structured practice using the right ball machine can be really effective. This article compiles the Best 8 Ball Machines on the market to accomodate different levels and budgets.

Ace Attack

Price: $6,995.00 (Includes remote control)
Manufactured by: Sport Attack
Weight: 150lbs
Dimensions: H67in-100in x D53in x W35in
Warranty: 5 years (for recreational and institutional use) and 1 year (commercial use).

Sports Attack, the manufacturers of Ace Attack, started making ball throwing machines for a variety of sports in 1995. The Ace Attack model has been trusted by tennis professionals for two decades.

The Ace Attack is beyond the budget of most recreational players and much more likely to be a valuable investment by a tennis club or team. This Ace Attack is an incredibly versatile, powerful and durable ball machine. The Ace Attack can release balls from 20mph to 100mph, from release heights of 42in to a mighty 100in. The highest settings can simulate right or left-handed flat, slice or kick serves as well as specialty shots like inside out slice backhands and side-spinning squash shots.

Balls can be released in variable width 2-line and 3-line feeds plus 1-line and variable. The 200-ball transparent hopper makes it easy to see if the basket is almost empty. the three throwing wheels enable you to feed balls with any combination of topspin, backspin or sidespin.

For those that have the budget, knowing that serve returns are one of the most critical yet under-practiced shots in tennis, the Ace Attack must at the top of the list when considering ball machines. Ships within one week of finalized order.

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iGENIE

Price: $6,945.00 (Includes 2-function remote control)
Manufactured by: METALTEK
Weight: TBC
Dimensions: TBC
Warranty: 3 Year Limited Parts Warranty.

The latest aluminum iGENIE from Playmate is a ‘workhorse’ found at tennis clubs around the USA and the official ball machine of the USPTA. The new version of the iGENIE ball machine holds 300 balls and is both one of the easiest to get started. Just select a 1) Player Level and 2) Select Shots (to play) and then 3) Set Directions. Or, don’t select anything and it will start feeding an Easy Rally Ball straight ahead.

For more ambitious users, iGENIE is capable of delivering 10 distinct programmable shots with delays, random shot sequences, and spin variation. There is a simple 2-functional remote control that starts/stops the feed and resets the drill.

For more experienced users, you can use the iPLAYMATE TENNIS app for iPhone and iPad to create and save drills, track workouts, and compare results with others. Secondly, for advanced users, you can open the lower black panel and start tinkering with settings like random and playing with height, speed and spin and delay of individual shots.

Unlike the Ace Attack, every feed is delivered from the same fixed height. And, it cannot truly replicate serves for return practice unless you purchase the SERVE LIFT device (at a cost of $5,995.00) that lifts the whole machine to deliver balls at serve height.

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Easy Toss Machine

Price: $199.00
Manufactured by: Sport Tutor
Weight: 13lbs
Dimensions: TBC
Warranty: 2 years.

By contrast to the two machines above, the Easy Toss Machine is a simple, low-cost ball machine for all ages.  It automatically gently throws a ball every 5 seconds.  It is lightweight and portable (weighing just 13lbs) and can hold 16 tennis balls (regular or training balls). The Easy Toss Machine is rechargeable providing 8 hours of continuous use.  While this machine can’t feed balls with the power and pace of other ball machines, with some imagination, the Easy Toss Machine can be a useful tool for adults practicing hitting shots with now pace and introducing juniors to the game.  The unit includes an internal rechargeable battery and charger.

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Spinfire Pro 2

Price: From $2,099.00 (Options available)
Distributed by: Spinfire USA (Manufactured in Melbource, Australia)
Weight: 40lbs (with external battery or AC) or 53lbs (with internal battery)
Dimensions: H26in x D20in x W20in
Warranty: 2 years. (US-based customer support).

The Spinfire Pro 2 is a relatively new product in the USA although it was developed by tennis enthusiasts a decade ago in Melbource, Australia.  Spinfire USA are the sole distributors in the USA of the Spinfire Pro 2.

The Spinfire 2 is aimed at recreational players and is the only ball machine at this price point to feature internal oscillation (the machine does not move and disguises feeding).  The difference is that with machines that oscillate make it much easier to judge where the next ball is being fed and can if used often, lead players to a false sense of confidence.  Unfortunately, tennis players are not kind enough to tell you where they are going to hit the next ball.

The Spinfire Pro 2 is a well-made machine that can provide single line drills, 2-line drills (narrow, medium and wide), and horizontal drills (medium and wide).  There are also options for vertical oscillation and elevation control and a totally random mode.  The balls can be fed at speeds of 20-80 mph, at ball intervals of 2-15 seconds and across 10 levels of topspin or backspin.

This machine comes with a full-function remote control.  There are three power options for this highly portable machine: AC only, external battery or internal battery.  The advantage of the external battery is saving 13lbs in weight making the machine easier to move around and into the car.

The Spinfire Pro 2 is a definite contender for recreational players and well worth consideration.

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Lobster Elite One

Price: From $1,139.00 (Extra options available)
Manufactured by: Lobster Sports
Weight: 42lbs
Dimensions: TBC
Warranty: 2 years (Additional warranty can be purchased).

The history of Lobster Sports and tennis ball machines goes back to the 1970s. The Lobster Elite One ball machine is one of eight models in the battery-powered Lobster range that all have over-size wheels and provide varying levels of topspin and backspin. While there are two cheaper Lobster models, the Lobster Elite One features in this list because it is the most cost-effective model to provide 10-80 mph ball speed, upgraded court time (4-8 hrs), sky-high lobs (0-60 degrees) through electronic elevation and full corner-to-corner random oscillation to test even an advanced player.  The ball capacity is 150 balls and shot intervals 2-12 seconds.  Note, unlike the Spinfire, the Lobster until rotates on the spot to feed each ball so the feed location can easily be anticipated.  A basic charger is included and a fast charger ($99-149) are available and a 2-function remote are optional ($169).

The Lobster Elite One is a solid choice for recreational players on a budget who don’t require or cannot afford the additional features of more expensive models.

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Playmate Volley

Price: $2,195.00
Manufactured by: METALTEK
Weight: 46lbs (Without battery pack)
Dimensions: TBC
Warranty: 2 years.

The Playmate Volley is a robust portable ball machine from the same manufacturers as the iGENIE. You can also buy a cheaper ‘Half Volley’ version (for $500 less) and then upgrade to the ‘full’ Volley by adding the remote and oscillation.  Frankly, we consider at this budget you should select the Volley from the start which is why it is featured.  With the Playmate Volley if you select “random,” only the internal wheels change the ball direction meaning like the Spinfire and other more expensive options, from the other side of the net, players are forced to react to the ball changing direction.

The aluminum unit is ‘portable’ when you collapse the until and remove the rechargeable battery. Like all battery-powered portable ball machines, you may wish to leave the machine in your car and just carry the battery to recharge.  The Playmate Volley ball machine includes a 2-line function with random oscillation and simple 2-function remote control.

The machine holds 200 balls, has a variable electronic ball speed and feed rate (not specified), variable topspin and backspin and commercial-grade pitching wheels.  The height control is manual.

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Lobster Phenom Two

Price: $3,595.00 (Wireless remote optional for extra $300.00)
Manufactured by: Lobster Sports
Weight: 99lbs
Dimensions: H50in x D32in x W25in
Warranty: 2 years.

From the same company that makes the battery-power Lobster Elite One, this Lobster Phenom Two is their top-of-line AC electric ball machine.

This hard plaster sleek-looking machine has a 250 ball capacity and can feed balls at 35-80 mph with a feed rate of 2-9 seconds (and random).  the maximum elevation angle is 50 degrees.  The feature-rich capabilities include horizontal and vertical oscillation, fully random, 2-line (narrow, medium, wide), and pre-programmed (and programmable) 6-ball drills. There is an optional 20-function remote (+$300.00)and optional iPhone (+$400) and Android (+$300.00) remotes.  You can also get a 20-function remote plus iPhone or Android combo for $499.00.

The Lobster Phenom Two (or cheaper, bit less capable Lobster Phenom) are commercial-grade machines that perform extremely well and should be considered by all tennis clubs and institutions.

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Tennis Twist Ball Machine

Price: $299.00
Manufactured by: Sports Tutor
Weight: 11lbs
Dimensions: TBC
Warranty: 3 years. (parts and labor).

In many ways, the Tennis Twist Ball Machine is a slight step up from the Easy Toss Machine. The machine can be either AC or battery powered. With its compact size and easy operation, it makes an ideal first ball machine for beginner tennis players of all ages.

Like the Easy Toss machine, you just turn it on and it shoots a ball every five seconds. The arc of the ball can be adjusted anywhere from 12 to 20 feet in length. The design holds up to 28 balls and battery model will operate up to ten hours on six ‘D’ size batteries (not included). The portability (just 11 lbs) and carrying handle make it practical for use anywhere including driveways, the local tennis courts or park.

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Summary

So, overall there is some great choices here. If you are on a strict budget, then the Tennis Twist Machine will get you started. If you have a $2k-ish budget, then compare the Spinfire Pro 2 and the Playmate Volley. And if you have $7k, then the Ace Attack is a worthy ball machine opponent that could revolutionize your game and especially service returns.