Is a ball machine the best hitting partner?
There are a number of options you can choose when you are trying to hit. I will run down the pros and cons of the options we have.
Wall – If you can find a wall to hit against it is a great way to blow off steam and whack some balls against the wall. It will never miss and always can send it back to you so it is the most reliable hitting partner you can find. However, you can’t see if you would make the shot you hit, where it would land and how effective it might have been. Also, it does not give spin back to you realistically and can lead to poor footwork since it doesn’t reward a great shot, just that you hit it back to the wall.
Pros – Always there for you, no scheduling, high consistency, free
Cons – No feedback on shots, poor spin realization.
Ball Machine – There are many different types of ball machines and if you want to look at which one might be a good fit for you go to my Tennis Ball Machine Buying Guide. In general though, a ball machine can provide you with a reliable hitting partner that will let you work on whatever you want without asking you to reciprocate. It provides realistic spin and excellent consistency. It can also give you a great work out if you have a model with oscillation all on your time frame, if you have 30 minutes at lunch you can get it out and have a nice hit and workout without having to find somebody with those exact thirty minutes you have. However, some ball machines can be hard to maneuver and if you park far away from courts you might have to make a couple of trips (for balls for the machine, possibly cord, and tennis bag). The main factor that prevents more people from using this as an option is cost.
Pros – Good work out, always available, great consistency, realistic spin
Cons – Cost of the machine (plus balls to supply the machine, think about pressureless balls), can be unwieldy to get to the court at times
Human Hitting Partner – This is the go to for anyone looking to hit, and gives the most realistic playing experience possible. Having a player that you can hit with is great it gives you variety, can critique your strokes if you ask them too, and even play a match if that is what you want. There are some downsides however, you do have to schedule a time that works for them, they are the least consistent option, and you need to think about what they want out of a hit. Also, it can be hard to find someone that is your level of player, even if they are somewhat similar level sometimes you can find someone who hits hard but is inconsistent and that can be frustrating to hit with when you are just looking to hit a lot of balls.
Pros – Most realistic, social, great variety, can give verbal feedback
Cons – Hard to schedule, least consistent, spend time on what they need work on, Hard to match skill levels
Lessons with a Tennis Pro – This can be the most versatile of the options, in fact this option can combine any or all of the previous options, with a pro looking on to give you feedback. A pro can really give you what you are looking for out of a hit, they can give you a workout, they can tell you what you are doing wrong (and you can be confident that they are correct, unlike a random hitting partner) and while feeding or hitting they are going to be more consistent than someone at your level (hopefully). Scheduling is usually easier since the pro has a financial incentive to be available for you, or you can find one who is. However, there is significant cost to having a pro for a lesson. It varies widely depending on a number of factors (regional, experience of pro, indoor/outdoor among others) but is at least $25 up to $120 per hour.
Pros – Most flexible, professional feedback
Cons – High cost
This was a quick rundown of the options you have when you are trying to get a good hit in. There is use for each one and I just wanted to give you a clear understanding of the options you have. What pros and cons did I miss?