I could no longer resist the machine. It was just too tempting. I wanted to know how it would feel, how it would work. There’s no way it could replace a human, could it? I mean, I’ve dabbled in the past, but not like this.
The time had come; I was going to have a full one on one, man versus machine, hitting session with our ball machine. The setting was perfect, I would utilize our indoor tennis court, the balls would be contained in a small area, but more importantly, I would be isolated. No one watching, no one judging.
This was no ordinary ball machine. This was the top of the line model. What the T1000 was to Terminators, this was it for ball machines. What I was up against was the Tennis Tutor Plus Player model. After doing some research and reading up on the functions, I formulated a game plan. First bucket, volleying using the 2 line narrow function. 2nd bucket, work on my groundstrokes using 2 line wide. Finally, 3rd bucket, player mode: the machine would simulate points by hitting balls short, long, left, right.
I had the machine centered on the baseline, set the trajectory, maxed out the speed (I figured I could handle it), flipped the On button and it whirled to life. After a few test shots, I had it dialed in to where I wanted. I felt like I was standing before a firing squad, but I needed the repetitions. What seemed like an eternity later, the machine was out of ammo and I was actually breathing pretty hard. Round 1: Tie
After reloading the machine with balls, I was ready for round 2. Side note: Is picking up balls not the worst thing ever?! Time to polish up my groundstrokes. Side to side, the machine had me on a string. It was relentless, like it had no soul! ¾ of the way through, I thought I was going to cough up both lungs and my heart. The last few balls, I didn’t even go for. At this point, my shirt is drenched, my water bottle drained, and I’m in such need of oxygen that breathing out of my nose is no longer an option. Round 2: Machine
Ever so slowly, I made it around to picking up the balls; it was time for the third and final round. After almost passing out in round 2, I decided to fill the hopper up only half way full. I’m a problem solver! First shot goes to my forehand, and so the “point” begins. I was running, but to my surprise, a lot of shots were coming right back at me. Some balls even hit the net or went long. So this machine isn’t perfect after all. In my totally biased opinion, I won that round. Round 3: Human
At this point, I am exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I had such a physically demanding workout. And that is what I’ve learned about going up against the machine. It is the perfect opponent for running you ragged and working on fine-tuning your strokes. The repetition and consistency of the shots allowed me to self analyze and make adjustments after each shot I hit.
The downfall? Well, first, it’s obviously no substitute for playing points. But, it’s just not nearly as fun as playing against a friend/opponent. There’s no trash talking, no camaraderie. But then again, it can’t drop shot you all day like some people I play against.
Having a ball machine around is the ultimate training tool. It might not be the most fun of all tennis activities, but if you want to get better, this machine is an asset. I can definitely see myself adding a “ball machine day” into my weekly tennis routine.
In the on going battle between man and machine, man still has the advantage.
But the gap is closing.
Have any of you hit against a machine before? What did you think? I’d love to hear your experiences and/or tips for using a ball machine.