23 November 2018

Machine learning

The more you practise tennis, the better you get. But you need a reliable way to hit ball after ball until you have complete confidence in your shots. Could a ball machine be the answer? Adam Burgis, a Local Tennis League player from south London, thinks so

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become outstanding in any field, whether that is  mastering the piano or playing tennis. That’s nearly 6 hours a day for 5 years.  Few if any of us can commit to that, but the inescapable point here is, practice makes perfect.

The question is how to do it? Coaching is great for learning how to execute shots but it can be an expensive way to practise them. Bjorn Borg used to hit against a garage wall but that is quite an art in itself. Then there are friends but those who want to stand there and feed you balls for an hour or two are probably few and far between.

Ideally, we would all have our own personal robot. Until we do, is the answer a ball machine? Adam Burgis, one of our players in south London, decided to try. The major downside is the expense. The one Adam wanted cost £1,200.  But he did the maths. If you have a weekly lesson at £35 a time, you will spend £1,820 a year. That means a machine has paid for itself in about 9 months. Plus, as Adam says, it will not complain.

“When you are hitting against a partner you have a responsibility to make a session worthwhile for them, whereas with the machine you can practice any shot you need to over and over, and if you spend ten minutes hitting every one long it doesn't matter. I felt this would lead to better practice.

I knew I wanted a machine that would give me a variety of delivery while also having pre-set drills and a remote. I went for the Spinfire Pro 2 where you can vary speed, height, width, length and frequency of delivery, as well as amount of topspin or backspin. 

It is a big initial outlay but I was prepared to invest in my game and I viewed it as better than paying £35 an hour for lessons. You do need to factor in the price of balls which also aren't cheap (although the pressure-less balls do last. I only replaced mine after 18 months use).

I use it once or twice a week in the summer and more in the winter when there are less matches. It goes in the car and weighs 18kg, so the same as a large suitcase and it has a rechargeable battery which lasts for 5 hours of court time. Ideally, you need to use it on a single court. If there are two courts together, the balls would go on to the other court.  

The best thing about it is that it is always ready to play when I am and forces me to practice with quality and intensity. The worst is that it does 200 balls at time. Picking them up isn’t so much fun.

It has definitely improved my tennis. It is great for finding rhythm in your game and that has given me a lot of confidence going into matches. You can hit a thousand volleys in an hour. It would take months of matches to practice that many.

People play tennis for lots of different reasons but for those like me looking to improve, it is a great purchase and better value than lots of expensive private coaching.”

See more about the Spinfire on here. In the UK it is stocked by various tennis retailers including Tennisnuts. Let us know your experiences of using ball machines!