Who says tennis isn’t an extreme sport? 😉
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll review the best tennis ball machines for the money available in 2018, so you don’t have to break the bank to practice your return.
We’ll look at the best options in terms of features and build quality as well as the best tennis ball machines available for under $1000.
In a rush? Check out our handy comparison table to view our top picks, or jump to our reviews.
- Buyer’s guide
- Best tennis ball machines under $1000
- Best tennis ball machines overall
- Full specifications spreadsheet – comparing tennis ball machines by stats
- Accessories you’ll need
Tennis Ball Machine Buyer’s Guide
Why buy a tennis ball machine?
Quite simply: tennis ball machines allow you to train scientifically – finding and eliminating the weak points in your game that could be costing you matches.
Say you notice you’re mistiming your half-volleys – sending them too high and allowing for an easy return. On the training court, you can set your machine to pitch the ball so it bounces nearly at your feet, allowing you to practice returning the balls you’re struggling with. After an hour or so of practice, you should notice a significant improvement in your ability to return the ball exactly where you want it.
But that’s not to say that tennis ball machines are boring and predictable. Most machines have a feature called oscillation, meaning they can fire shots on both sides of the court and vary how deep they shoot.
Features and specifications to look for
Different machines at different price-points have different features and specifications you should know about:
- Feed rate (how fast you can set the machine to fire).
- Ball hopper capacity.
- Battery life – most tennis ball machines are portable and run on a battery only.
- Weight and dimensions.
- Warranty period.
Extra features (and their cost):
- Horizontal/vertical oscillation (varying the shots fired): 💰
- Remote controls: 💰💰
- High maximum speeds (70-80mph): 💰
- Adjustable topspin/backspin settings: 💰💰
- Programmable drills: 💰💰💰
Other things to consider
With such an important purchase it’s crucial you get the right tennis ball machine for your individual needs. Have a think about:
- How big do I want the machine to be? Could I lift a large machine into my car, and would it fit?
- Would I prefer the peace of mind of a longer warranty?
- How will my new machine help me to lift my game? Do I need a cheaper beginner’s model to work on basic returns, or an advanced machine to put me through some complex drills?
- Is my fitness and endurance something I want to work on? If so, should I opt for a machine with a larger ball capacity and a faster feed rate?
Obviously you’ll have to answer these questions yourself – we can’t do all the work for you. 😛
Just a quick word with regards to portability: most machines come with a battery that lasts at least 3-5 hours, so this shouldn’t be much of a problem. What you’ve instead got to consider is the size and weight of the machine and how you’ll get it to the court.
Best Tennis Ball Machines Under $1000
First we’ll look at the best tennis ball machines for the money on the market right now.
1. Match Mate Rookie Tennis Ball Machine
For beginner tennis players you don’t really need a heap of fancy spin-control features and drill presets. As a result, you can get a really nice bare-bones machine for much less than $1000.
The Match Mate Rookie is just what you need to get started on your tennis journey. Its five hour battery life ensures that the kids get tired before the machine does, allowing them to hone their returns throughout an afternoon session. What’s more, it only weighs 22 pounds, so there’ll be no complaining when you put them on pack-up duty!
However, it’s the machine’s settings that make it suitable for all rookies, not just kids. It can be adjusted to fire at up to 28mph, enabling you to develop your technique at your own pace. This machine doesn’t have custom spin or oscillation settings, making it all the more suitable for beginner players who aren’t quite ready to deal with crazy-unpredictable shots.
2. Lobster Sports Elite Liberty Tennis Ball Machine
Lobster Sport’s mid-budget option has a whole heap of awesome features for beginner to intermediate level players. It comes with a lob shot function, holds around to 150 balls, and can fire at up to 80mph.
Hold up, this is supposed to be the “less than $1000” section!
It is! The Elite Liberty model comes in at just under four figures, making it excellent value for money considering what you get. At 35 pounds it’s still very light and the wheels allow for easy portability. You can even tell it to shoot with topspin or backspin and it has a horizontal oscillation function. Plus, you get a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty for peace of mind when buying.
The only downside is the battery, which is advertised to last between 2-4 hours. This should be plenty for most players, but if you’ll be on the court for 5+ hours at a time it’s probably a good idea to look at a more advanced machine with a longer maximum battery life.
Best Tennis Ball Machines Overall
Looking to splash the cash? In this section we’ll review some of the best tennis ball machines in terms of overall build quality and features, while still assessing the comparative value of each device.
1. Spinshot Player Tennis Ball Machine
If you’re looking for the best tennis ball machine in terms of its ability to recreate the sort of situations you would find yourself facing in a real game, the Spinshot Player is an excellent choice.
You may have noticed that we haven’t included Spinshot’s cheaper “Pro” model in this review. This is because even though it costs more than the Lobster Sports Elite Liberty, its features are pretty much the same and the warranty is a year shorter.
However, the company’s “Player” model is certainly worth the higher price. You get:
- A phone app that allows you to create and edit your own custom drills, including editing the feed rate, spin and power of individual shots in your routine.
- Vertical and horizontal oscillation.
- Electronic elevation settings.
- 2-year warranty (6 months for the battery).
So, is it worth it?
This machine would be great for intermediate-advanced players looking to use highly targeted tennis drills to take their game to the next level. You also get the convenience of the phone remote and the electronic elevation settings.
Plus, if you’re a beginner, you can “grow into” the machine and start using its more advanced drills as your returns improve – only using its basic routines to begin with.
The only downside apart from the cost would be the relatively low 68mph top shot speed. You’ll have to decide whether you need a more powerful machine or not.
The video below gives a good demonstration of the oomph of the Spinshot Player.
2. Lobster Sports Elite Three Tennis Ball Machine
Another mid-upper budget option is the Lobster Sports Elite Three tennis ball machine.
As you’d expect for a device of this price, you get a heap of advanced features. Random oscillation, electronic elevation and a 2-10 second adjustable feed rate come as standard. If you decide to crank up the feed rate to two seconds you’ll have plenty of balls to keep you going – the hopper can hold up to 150.
However, the main benefit of the Elite Three is its battery, which will last a whopping 4-8 hours. Lobster also includes a 2-year warranty, and the machine can fire at speeds of up to 80mph.
Overall, this is a really great machine for intermediate to advanced level players. The only downside really is the lack of programmable drills, but the random oscillation function is sure to put you through your paces.
Difference between the Lobster Sports Elite Three and the Spinshot Player
As these two machines cost a similar amount and offer similar features, we thought we’d pit them against each other to see who comes out on top.
- Usability: you can program it with your phone and make your own drills.
- Price: generally a bit lower.
- Hopper capacity: 150 vs 120.
- Max speed: 80mph vs 68mph.
- Court time: 4-8 hours vs 2-3 hours.
THE VERDICT: Lobster Elite Three wins!
Since all other factors are pretty much equal (the warranties are both 2 years long, both have horizontal/vertical oscillation etc.) we think the Elite Three just about trumps the Spinshot Player.
3. Wilson Portable Tennis Ball Machine
If you’ve got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket, you might consider buying Wilson’s monolith-looking tennis tower.
Basically, you get all of the placement, power and spin control features you’d expect in a cheaper machine, including a random oscillation mode. For the extra money, you get a machine that’s a bit lighter, coming in at 38 pounds, and super-smooth wheels for movement. The battery lasts 3-4 hours, and Wilson offers a 3-year warranty to backup their workmanship. So if you’re looking for a super-reliable but also easily portable machine, this is a great pick.
Apart from the price, the main downside to this machine is its relatively low hopper capacity – 110 balls. You’ll also have to buy the remote separately and there’s no fancy custom drill function.
So, who would we recommend this product for?
You should consider buying Wilson’s tennis ball machine if you’re looking for something super-portable but also super-sturdy, backed up by a 3-year warranty. If you’d prefer a more easily portable machine with a better build quality and a longer warranty as opposed to a machine with an included remote and a greater ball capacity, Wilson’s “Black Box” (as we like to call it) could be the product for you.
4. Lobster Sports Phenom II Club Series Tennis Ball Machine
Despite the awesome build quality and impressive features of Wilson’s portable tennis ball machine, it’s not quite the best device available in terms of overall performance. This title instead belongs to the Lobster Sports Phenom II.
Because it’s as tall as a small child, this machine can hold up to 250 balls which it can place anywhere you like on the court. You can also program your own drills and save them to the machine, although it doesn’t come with a phone app and the remote is sold separately. There’s also a heap of specialized drills such as the attack/defend routine developed by Lobster’s experts which are sure to put you through your paces. It even has random spin and vertical oscillation modes to really mix things up.
Although this is a really incredible machine, it’s definitely not for everyone. It weighs 99 pounds and is 50 inches tall, so lugging it to and from the court might be a bit difficult. It’s powered by the mains (AC) rather than with a battery, so you’ll need a power outlet somewhere close by to use it.
Essentially, if you’re buying for a tennis club or you own your own court, the Phenom II might be worth taking a look at. It’s honestly the best tennis machine that money can buy in many respects, so check it out and see if you think it’s worth the price.
Looking At The Stats: The Difference Between Leading Tennis Ball Machines
We’ve put together a handy Google Docs spreadsheet that compares each tennis ball machine we’ve reviewed based on their specifications and features.
Pretty neat, huh?
To grab a copy of this spreadsheet (plus access to a heap of other bonus content), simply sign up for our email updates and we’ll throw you a Google Docs link. We promise not to send spam – you can unsubscribe at any time. 🙂
Tennis Ball Machine Accessories
The truth is there’s more to using your “silent partner” than just ordering the machine.
No matter which option you go for, your beast is going to be hungry. It’ll devour tennis balls like you eat Coco Pops.
We recommend grabbing a bulk bucket of pressureless tennis balls as they last longer than the pressured variety. Check out our guide to buying the right tennis balls for more info on the subject.
Penn’s 48-ball bucket and Tourna’s 60-ball pack are great places to start.
What’s more – the more you feed it, the more you’ve got to pick up its mess. No one wants to break their back bending down to pick up 150 individual tennis balls. You’ll want something to make this process a bit easier.
There are two options here:
These devices work as a basket to pick up the balls and then as a stand to hold them – the handles fold down to function as legs.
2. Tennis ball tubes
You can pick up balls from one end and empty from the other. A bit more time-consuming than using a ballport but also cheaper.
Finally, there’s the issue of protecting your investment from the weather. Tennis ball machine companies sell separate protective covers for their tennis ball machines which we think should really come as standard.
Do you really need a cover? Probably not. But if you play in the rain, or your storage location is a bit damp, it can be worth getting one to protect the electrics from moisture. Remember most manufacturers don’t cover the weather as a part of their warranty.
If you think these covers are too expensive, just use a piece of waterproof tarp and a rope to secure it when storing your tennis ball machine.
Lobster Sports Elite Series Cover
Lobster Sports Phenom Series Cover
You’ve reached the end of our buyer’s guide! Hopefully you found what you were looking for.
Still not sure which tennis ball machine is right for you? Leave a comment and we’ll get right back to you!