How to use a Tennis Ball Machine? 8 Must know Tennis Ball Machine Drills

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Tennis ball machines are awesome. There’s no denying that.

You can practice on your own, work on certain areas of your game, and instill muscle memory from constant repetition.

If you’ve recently bought a new ball machine, then you’re aware that they can cost a pretty penny.

This is why we’ve decided to write this article, so you can get the most out of your new machine and take your training to the next level.

We’re going to discuss some top tips on how to use a tennis ball machine and also share an array of tennis ball machine drills you can try out next time you head to the court.

Let’s get to it.

Tennis Ball Machine Functions and How They Impact Drills

But first, not all tennis ball machines are created equal.

There’s a whole array of different machines out there, each equipped with different functions and abilities. Some of the key functions that will determine the type of drills you’re able to do are:

  • Ball speed
  • Ball frequency
  • Oscillation (horizontal and vertical). This is the ability to shoot tennis balls in different directions.
  • Built-in drills & custom drill

Right, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at some different tennis ball machine drills you can utilize in your training.

Tennis Ball Machine Drills

We’ll start with more basic drills, and progressively increase the difficulty as we move along.

Drill 1: Center Forehand

tennis ball machine drill

The above diagram shows the drill set up for a right-handed person. For a left-handed player, stand on the other side of the center mark.

  • Step 1: Set the tennis ball machine up in the center of the court approximately halfway between the service line and the baseline.
  • Step 2: Stand just behind the baseline, to the left or right of the center mark. Which side you stand depends on whether you’re left or right-handed. If you’re right-handed, stand to the left of the center mark, and if you’re left-handed, stand to the right.
  • Step 3: Get the machine to feed you balls approximately every 4 seconds.
  • Step 4: Alternate landing your shots between the right and left side of the court.
  • Step 5: Repeat this as many times as you like. I find between 20-30 balls is a good number.

Add extra difficulty: To add a bit of extra difficulty to this drill, you can place cones or another marker on each side of the court. Try and land your shots between these markers.

Drill 2: Center Backhand

tennis ball machine drill

The above diagram shows the drill set up for a right-handed person. For a left-handed player, stand on the other side of the center mark.

This is the same as drill 1, however this time we’re using our backhand instead of our forehand. The only difference here is where you stand relative to the center mark.

If you’re right-handed, stand to the right and if you’re left-handed, stand to the left.

Drill 3: Cross Court Forehand With Recovery

tennis ball machine drills

The above diagram shows the drill set up for a right-handed person. For a left-handed player, place the tennis ball machine on the other side of the court.

This next drill provides a good level of progression from the previous drills above.

This is done by adding a bit more movement and simulation of gameplay into your tennis ball machine practice. For example, returning to the center of the court after each shot helps to mimic and practice the same movements you’ll be making in a match.   

  • Step 1: Place the tennis ball machine in the corner of the court a foot or two from the baseline and a sideline. Which side of the court you place the machine on will depend if you’re right or left-handed. If you’re right-handed, place the machine on your left-hand side, and if you’re left-handed, place it on the right-hand side.
  • Step 2: Place yourself one or two feet behind the center mark.
  • Step 3: Get the ball machine to feed you topspin shots every 5-6 seconds. The less time between shots, the faster you will need to move.
  • Step 4: From your starting position, run to the right and return the shot. For added complexity, you can alternate your between down the line and cross-court returns.
  • Step 5: Return to your starting position.
  • Step 6: Repeat the above steps as many times or for as long as you would like.

I find with these types of drills it can be helpful to put a marker down on your starting position, such as a cone. This can give you an easy-to-see point of reference where you should be returning after each shot.

That said, you’re not going to have these markers when you’re in a match, so only use one if you feel you need to.

Drill 4: Cross Court Backhand With Recovery

tennis ball machine

The above diagram shows the drill set up for a right-handed person. For a left-handed player, place the tennis ball machine on the other side of the court.

This is essentially the same drill as drill 3, however this time we’re using our backhand instead of our forehand. Again, start just behind the center mark, move to your left to hit the ball, and then return to your starting position.

Drill 5: Cross Court Backwards Forehand

This time we’re going to change up our starting position. Instead of starting behind the baseline, this time we’re going to be in between the service line and the baseline.

tennis ball machine drill
  • Step 1: Place the tennis ball machine in the corner of the court, in between the baseline and the sideline. As before, the side of the court you place the machine will depend if you’re left or right-handed.
  • Step 2: Place yourself in the center of the court, approximately halfway between the baseline and the service line.
  • Step 3: Set up the tennis ball machine to feed you shots every 5-6 seconds. If possible, set your machine to deliver the balls with topspin. This will help to mimic shots you’re likely to receive when playing a match.
  • Step 4: From your starting position, run backward to your right. You want to position yourself so that you can hit the ball once it is descending from its bounce. Similarly, as before, you can alternate between landing your shots down the line and cross-court.
  • Step 5: Return to your starting position.

Drill 6: Cross Court Backwards Backhand

how to use a tennis ball machine

This is essentially the same drill as the cross-court backward forehand we just discussed. This time, however, we’re going to be using our backhand.

The main difference here is where you place the tennis ball machine. You want to put the machine on the opposite side of the court to your forehand drill. For right-handed players, this will be on the right side and for left-handed players, this will be on the left.

Drill 7: High Forehand Volley

how to use a tennis ball machine

Next up we have a few drills that are great for players who like to rush to the net and win points with volleys.

  • Step 1: Place the tennis ball machine in the center of the court, a foot or two in from the baseline.
  • Step 2: Position yourself to the left of the center service line, about halfway between the net and the back service line. Stand in the other service box if you’re left-handed.
  • Step 3: Set up the machine to deliver fairly high balls (between head and shoulder height), and to deliver the balls every 3-4 seconds.
  • Step 4: Return the shot using a high forehand volley. You can mix up where you place your shot alternating between left and right.
  • Step 5: Repeat the drill for however long you like. Usually, 20 balls or just over a minute is a good amount of time. That said, it’s down to you and how much you feel you need to work on your volley technique.

Drill 8: High Backhand Volley

how to use a tennis ball machine

You might be noticing a pattern here. This time we’re going to take the same drill, but instead of using our forehand, we’ll be using a high backhand volley.

The drill itself largely remains the same, however, you’ll want to position yourself in the opposite service box to the forehand drill.

Top Tip: You can combine drills 7 & 8, alternating between hitting a forehand volley and backhand volley. This adds a bit more movement to the drill and allows you to practice positioning and setting up for different shots when in a rally.

Tips for Using a Tennis Ball Machine

Work on Your Weaker Areas

If there’s a particular area of your game that you feel is lacking, using a tennis ball machine is a great way to iron out any kinks in your tennis arsenal.

Say for example you’re struggling to find a home for your down-the-line backhand. Set up your machine to feed you balls to your backhand side, and repeatedly hit backhands for 50, 60, 70, or however many balls you like.

You can even incorporate some of the backhand drills we’ve mentioned above into your tennis ball machine practice.

Create Your Own Drills if You Can

If you’ve got a high-end tennis ball machine, why not make the most of it. A lot of the top-tier machines come with custom programmability.

Create your own drills for tactics you want to work on. Want to take the ball early? Rush to the net? Play with power from the baseline? You could even combine the drills listed above, which should make for a great game simulating training session.

Of course, this is reliant on your machine, as you’ll need both custom drill functionality and built-in oscillation for the ball feeding.

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

I’ll admit it. There’s something about using a tennis ball machine that makes me want to hit big power forehand over and over again.

There’s no denying that using a tennis ball machine is great for repetition, but at the end of the day, there’s no point in practicing something imperfectly. Practice makes permanent as they say. With that in mind, focus on hitting the ball with proper form and technique, as opposed to rushing out as many repetitions as you can.

If you need to, slow down the ball frequency. Get the machine to feed to you every 10, 15, 20 seconds if that’s what’s required.

Once you have the feel and technique down, then you can start to increase the intensity of your drills. The end result?

Proper form and technique at a high, match-like pace.

Increase the Difficulty of Your Drills

As I mentioned earlier in the article, you can always try and increase the drill difficulty. A great way to do this is by setting up targets and try to hit each target with your shot. I find ball canisters are a great way to do this. You can set up a couple of canisters and aim to place each shot in between them.

Not only does this help to develop your accuracy, but also makes the drills a bit more fun and engaging.

Get Yourself a Hopper

While heading down to the court for some tennis ball machine practice is great…

There is one pretty big drawback.

And that’s the clean-up. If your machine has a 100+ ball capacity, that’s a lot of balls you need to pick up. To save a bit of time (and your back), I’d definitely recommend getting yourself a tennis ball hopper.

You can get a ball hopper for pretty cheap and it makes collecting the balls much quicker and easier. This is particularly ideal if you’ve only got a certain amount of time on the court, and you want to fully utilize what time you have.

Final Thoughts

Well, there we have it. Hopefully, you’ve got a better understanding of how to use a tennis ball machine next time you head down to the courts.

Let us know if you try these tennis ball machine drills and how you got on in the comment section below.

Thanks for stopping by.

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