Two strokes into every tennis match, I remember my backhand is trash. I overgrip the racket, aim horrifically, and am lucky if the ball lands anywhere inside the white lines. It’s a lack of skill that’s stuck through grade school camps, high school doubles, and ongoing sibling rivalries. But now that I’m 30, it’s time to do something about it. Tennis is one of the few sports you can play for a lifetime, and I can’t spend the coming decades flailing each time the ball is on the left side of the court.
That’s why I eagerly agreed to test the Slinger Slingshot T-One, a portable tennis ball launcher that looks like a rolling duffel bag. Charge it up, plop up to 144 balls in the top, and you can set it to shoot you everything from volleys to my dreaded baseline backhand. For $599—significantly more affordable than most competitors (and a couple of months of tennis lessons)—you can work on the shots you struggle with on your own time, on a public court. For anyone without the time or money to join a tennis club and hire a coach, the Slinger is a great training tool.
Get the Balls Rolling
The best part about the Slinger is how simple it is to use. The blue and black rolling bag has two large zipper pockets on the front, one to hide the firing mechanism as well as the speed and rate it shoots balls, and the other to hide the ball hopper. On the side, a small zipper hides an angle adjustment lever. (Unscrew, adjust to the angle you want, and retighten the screw.)
There’s a large interior section that’s accessible through the top of the bag where you can put a few tennis rackets, and a side sling for an optional telescopic ball grabber (Slinger sells a number of accessories to go along with the bag, but this one is the best). There’s a USB charging port in an upper right pocket for cell phones, and an optional phone mount that latches to the telescopic handle should you want to film your strokes for TikTok or Instagram.
Such smart design and simple, logical functionality make taking all your gear to the court a breeze. Just roll the bag, which has your tennis balls, the launcher, and your racket inside it, to wherever you want to play, unzip it, and you’re off. It weighs 33 pounds, so it’s not too difficult to lift it in and out of the trunk of a car.
Setting up the perfect shot for a given exercise takes a little bit of practice, but once you figure out the machine’s settings, they’re pretty easy to dial in. The speed and ball-flow knobs on the front of the bag are easy to adjust, and they go from pretty darn slow to pretty darn fast. An included remote, which looks a lot like a car key, allows you to turn it on or off from across the court. There’s a short warm-up time for the machine before it gets going (around 30 seconds).
I typically started practice with the machine near the net but on the same side as me. On low speed and medium ball-feed, it provides some nice, gentle warm-up shots. Once I’m feeling more confident, I wheel the launcher to the other side and set up an angle and speed for a type of shot I’m trying to work on (lately, volleys and that dreaded backhand).