Tasman Tennis Club member Simon Richardson has gone about making a tennis ball machine out of a supermarket trolley. Photo: Phillip Rollo.

Kiwi ingenuity on the tennis court

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Having just got back into the sport a year ago, Simon Richardson thought a tennis ball machine would be the perfect tool to help him improve. But when he realized how much one of those costs he took the novel route of building one out of a supermarket trolley. “It can cost $3000 so as a winter project I just thought ‘why not make one?’”

The Tasman Tennis Club member, who is a mechanic by trade, hopes to be wheeling his supermarket trolley out onto the court in the coming months, but is still putting some of the final touches on it. “It was a real buzz when I fired the first ball,” he says. “I just hope it’s reliable enough that we can use it as a club machine so the juniors can practise with it. There’s not many practice partners that are prepared to hit 300 balls to you time after time.”

Before building it, Simon says he did plenty of research on the internet. “On YouTube it’s not uncommon to see a homemade tennis ball machine or a baseball launcher. There were a couple of sites so I looked at those but I came up with my own design.”

The motor is imported from the United States while the rest of the parts had been sourced locally, including the trolley which was dumped at his work one evening. Simon says the initial plan was to use a washing machine but realized the ball baskets used by the tennis coaches kind of resembled a trolley. “Where I work every night there is a supermarket trolley dumped outside so I acquired one from there. It was really whatever I could find. But it’s ideal for a ball hopper. What I’d really like to work on is having some arms at the front to go around and collect the balls too.”

It is powered by a car battery and can fire tennis balls at over 150 km/h or at the same serving speed as a professional player. “It’s actually a lot faster than other machines on the market but in saying that the motor is pretty hungry. When it’s fully programmable I will be able to programme certain shots into it. Realistically I could simulate a whole game between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.”

And while the cost was one of the main barriers in buying a brand new tennis ball machine, Simon quietly admits he has spent more than he hoped already. “I reckon I’ve probably spent $500.”