Tennis Ball Machine Reviews & Ratings
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Once upon a time, if you wanted to have a tennis practice session you had to have a partner. Then along came the tennis ball machine. It would "serve" balls automatically, one after the next. But, there were problems.
The first automatic serve machines were expensive, often several thousand dollars. Only the rich, tennis pros, or the most dedicated tennis fans would buy one. Equally bad, their capacity was limited, a few dozen balls at best. Worst of all, they served the ball to exactly the same spot over and over and over again. Why pay all that money then?
Fortunately, those days are long gone. Contemporary tennis ball machines are available in a range of prices. They have varying capacities, but even a medium-priced machine can hold 100 balls or more. They're highly portable - lightweight, relatively small, and available in battery-powered models.
Best of all, many modern models can fire a tennis ball at superhuman speeds anywhere on the court with string-breaking spin. Luckily for those mere mortals among us, they can also be adjusted to "serve" at a variety of speeds and spots, and often randomly.
Most machines offer variation in both horizontal and vertical oscillation. That is, they can fire left-to-right or at different angles to let you practice all kinds of shots. And, several units vary the depth, height, target, and spin unpredictably to closely simulate real-world play.
They can also change the feeding interval - the number of seconds a new ball is launched - from a blistering two seconds a shot to a leisurely 30 seconds. That gives novices a chance to develop at a reasonable pace, while ensuring your machine remains a useful workout tool for years.
At the same, manufacturers have paid attention also to some features you want other than trajectory variation. Those ergonomic or convenience features don't necessarily affect how the ball comes at you but they do make the machine easier to use.
Size and weight are two obvious factors. If your unit weighs 100 lbs you're less likely to want to lug it to the court very often. Other aspects of portability - battery driven versus corded, for example, are represented too.
Some models are "programmable", letting you select a pre-set workout routine to vary left-right, depth, angle, and spin in order to hone certain strokes. They let you sharpen your backhand, improve handling of lobs, and more.
Some offer remote control units. What you can control with them varies. Sometimes it's little more than oscillation or spin adjustment. Sometimes, it's as sophisticated as everything the machine will do, and that can be considerable.
There are also many other accessories available - covers, external power supplies, replacement or spare batteries, and others.
The first tennis ball "machines" were nothing more than a ball connected to a rope tied to a pole. Some early models were spring loaded or run by a crank turned by a partner. Many held few balls and jammed often.
Today's tennis ball machine is a technological marvel. They are air propulsion or spinning wheel fired, large capacity with great reliability, reasonably priced, and sometimes offer more variety of play than most human partners.
Yes, we've come a long way since Rene LaCoste's first prototypes of the 1920s. Be sure to read up on the features and models on our site to find the one best for you.
Lobster Elite Freedom vs Liberty
Choosing one tennis ball machine over another is always tricky business, especially when they’re so closely matched. That’s nowhere more true than in selecting the Lobster Elite Freedom over the Elite Liberty – or vice versa.
There are a dozen reasons that buying the Elite Freedom rather than the Liberty, or the reverse, is a toss up. First and foremost, though, is that they’re almost indistinguishable in as many attributes.
The basic case design is similar in so many Lobster models, and the same is true here. At a glance, they appear identical: similar red rounded rectangle with a big scoop-style bin on the top. The ball bin doubles nicely as a cover for easy storage and transport. Just flip it over and it slides securely onto the base.
The Freedom and Liberty measure a modest 24″ x 16″ x 31″ and weigh a mere 35 lbs. Both models also have a sturdy handle and – happy day – 8″ castor wheels that roll easily. Moving this machine onto and off the court is a breeze.
Battery Life – 2 to 4 Hours
Both models have the same battery life: a modest rating of 2-4 hours. You can expect actual usage to tend more to the lower figure, though the high one is possible.
The variation is just as often due to the recharge level. It can sometimes be due to ball differences, too. The biggest factor, not surprisingly, is setting. Faster speeds take more mechanical power, hence more battery power and faster draining.
Even at the longer life you’re getting only a mid-level workout time. So, this machine should be looked as what it is: an entry level model for novice to intermediate players.
Capacity – 150 Balls
Both models offer the same capacity as so many other Lobster tennis ball machines: 150 balls. One thing I really like about the Lobster ball bin – apart from its high capacity and convenient flip-over transport capability – is the ability to see when it’s getting low. That helps me pace my workout.
Where it counts, there are some minor differences between the two. Since they are minor, you’ll struggle with that dilemma mentioned in the intro. But choose your weapon based on your needs. Here are the main features.
Speed – 65 mph vs 80 mph
One of those minor differences is the speed of the shot. The Freedom fires balls from 10-65 mph. The Liberty raises the ante slightly, offering 10-80 mph. Those, naturally, are the rated speeds.
What the machine achieves in practice is the result of many factors: battery level, wind speed, elevation setting, and other factors. Suffice to say, you can put a radar gun on either if you wish, but the highest setting can be achieved in real-world use.
For those buyers looking to avoid outgrowing his or her tennis ball machine, the Liberty might be the better choice. Unless you’re a novice, and plan to remain that way for some time to come, you’ll want the higher speed eventually. If you think “eventually” is beyond the expected life of the machine, you can save about $100 by opting for the Freedom.
Feed Rate – 2 to 10 sec
The feed rate variation is the equal of some higher-end machines. It will go as fast as two seconds, which is fully short enough and as slow as 10 seconds, the same as so many other tennis ball machines on the market.
Elevation – Up to 50°
Both the Freedom and the Liberty sport the ability to lob at 0-50°. In practice, the low number is meaningless. Any ball launched straight out wouldn’t likely clear the net unless the machine were inches from the divider. That and, technically, any ball hit straight isn’t a lob and won’t invoke your overhead slam.
In any case, the 50 degree range is plenty for nearly anyone. It would be nice if you could, like others in the Elite line, set it electronically. However, the manual adjustment is easy. It operates smoothly and stays put securely.
The bigger issue – and this affects both models – is that it’s not random. You select it and it stays there until you stop the machine and change it. Once set, it doesn’t change for the remainder of that hopper set.
Both models do offer horizontal oscillation (left-right variation). For simulating real-world play, the value of that can’t be overstated.
There’s certainly benefit to practicing the same swing over and over again. But apart from training your muscles to exercise control, that ability offers limited worth for developing your game.
The biggest difference between the two, though some players won’t consider it important, is the spin. The Freedom has no topspin or backspin feature. The Liberty can do both.
For a novice, that feature is usually of little importance. A beginning player has enough to do to develop control, practice forehand and backhand, deal with lobs, and more. But for anyone who is, or plans to move beyond, that first level dealing with spin is close to a necessity.
You simply can’t become a proficient tennis player without the skill to handle what is often very unexpected: balls that jump up or leap forward more than those from a straight shot.
It’s unfortunate that this feature is responsible, it seems, for all of the $100 difference in the two models. That’s a big price jump to get a machine that offers just one added feature. Still, it certainly can be an important feature and easily turns this into a machine that a developing player will not outgrow very quickly. That was my most serious concern about the otherwise fine Elite Freedom.
The Lobster Elite Freedom and Elite Liberty are both sturdy, reliable, and easy to use tennis ball machines. Oscillation is limited. The Freedom lacks spin capability and does not work with the optional remote control. They each provide ample hopper capacity in a small, lightweight package but dedicated players will likely soon outgrow either of them.
Fortunately, for those looking to spend more to get more, Lobster has several other Elite models that provide all the things these two models lack. As always, it’s a balance between budget and features.