You may have seen these advertised before, or like many at my local tennis club, the sight of a Slinger bag might be completely alien to you.
At first glance a Slinger bag looks a bit like a suitcase on wheels. And you wouldn't be totally wrong for thinking that. You have compartments to store your tennis racket and a separate compartment for all your balls. The handle raises up so you can wheel it around like a modern suitcase too. But also hidden inside this bag is a ball launcher that has been endorsed by the likes of Tommy Haas, Genie Bouchard, the Bryan brothers, and Dustin Brown. So it must be good? Right?
At the time of writing this article, A Slinger bag in the UK costs £935 with 72 Wilson Triniti balls. This is the Grand Slam Player bundle, which also comes with an oscillator, ball tube, phone holder and a universal charger. Now, there is no doubt that to most people £935 is a lot of money. However if you are in the market for a ball launcher, it is cheaper than rivals from Spinshot and Lobster. The difference between a Slinger bag and it's rivals however is that you get a lot more practicality, but a simpler ball launcher, which I will cover below.
This is where the Slinger is a unique product in its market. I can easily fit this bag into the boot of a regular sized hatchback and I don't need to carry it around because it comes with wheels, so from the car park to the courts, there is no awkward stumble trying to get all my equipment where it needs to be. It can also easily fit two tennis rackets, a pair of tennis shoes and a change of clothes if I really want to use up that space. The handle that raises up like on a modern travel suitcase can be used to attach a phone holder so you can film yourself taking serves or performing certain drills, in case you really want to study your technique, or you're vain and want to show off on social media.
The Ball Launcher
The most important thing you should be aware of before buying a Slinger bag is that the ball comes out with one spin setting. TOPSPIN! Because the launcher has been designed and built with practicality in mind, it has just the one belt driving the ball towards you, and that generates topspin. If you turn the power down the amount of top spin is reduced and you can focus on technique and consistency, but if you want to get a good workout and run at balls moving at pace, you will need to account for the amount of spin on the ball and adjust your technique accordingly. If you want to focus returning flat and backspin balls, then you will need to look for another, more expensive product.
The launcher does come with 3 settings that are easy to use. Speed, Feed and Elevation. Speed is pretty self-explanatory. The lowest speed setting can be used to practice form and technique as the ball gently pops out of the machine, whilst the highest setting requires you to have the bag at the other end of the court and for you to stand far back from the baseline as the ball kicks up with tremendous amounts of top spin. The highest speed of 45mph might not sound like much if you play with players that can hit 100+mph serves at you, but when a 45mph ball kicks up with a lot of top spin, you won't be complaining about the speed.
Feed ranges from roughly 2 seconds (a very intense HIIT workout that I wouldn't recommend for practising technique) and around 10 seconds (best used with low speed and high elevation for ball boy mode). However, a flaw in the Slinger bag appears to be its ability to consistently launch a ball when it should, which means sometimes I will wait for the ball and it doesn't come. Then when I am about to give up because I think there is a jam or no more balls left, I will be caught off guard and balls will start flying at me again. This is partly down to the design of the bag, where balls will sometimes stick to the edges of the bag and not fall into the loading mechanism. Meaning if you load 72 balls to hit, you could only end up hitting 62 balls before the launcher stops launching.
Elevation is a very simple mechanism on the bag where you loosen a handle on the side of the bag, move it to the angle you want and then tighten the handle again. The elevation you use is strongly influenced by the speed setting you have. A high elevation with a low speed can be used to catch balls when practising your serve, but using a high elevation with a medium speed setting will launch the ball into the sky for you to practice smashes and volleys. There is a lot of working out for yourself what the best settings are for what you want to do and therefore the first few times you use your Slinger bag feels like a trial and error session. There are suggestions that come with the bag and ones that can be found online, but I have found the best method is to experiment yourself, find the settings that work for you and then most importantly, note them down!
Battery life has never been an issue for me. I can keep the Slinger bag hidden away for months at a time, bring it out and it still has enough charge for hours of practice. So if you keep the bag charged before you go on court, it is unlikely that the bag will run out of batteries before you. Charge time is what you would expect for a large lithium battery, give it a few hours and you are good to go.
Build Quality This is something I thought I had to mention because for a product that is made with lots of fabrics and zips, it can be easy to buy something with cheap materials that breaks or tears easily. But I have to say I am very impressed with the overall quality of the product. The wheels are sturdy, the zips are strong and the materials feel premium. The only issue I have had was with the ball tube that broke, however Slinger kindly fixed that for me, as I shall explain in the next section.
Accessories As stated earlier in this review, the product I purchased was the Grand Slam Player, which came with 72 Wilson Triniti Balls, an oscillator, a ball tube and a phone holder.
Unfortunately after just a few sessions with the Slinger bag my ball tube (used for picking up all the balls quickly and easily) broke! The design of the tube meant the two pieces of the tube that could extend were held together by glue and once this glue wore off, the ball tube separated into two pieces. This was disappointing as you do not expect a premium product to have these types of design flaws. I contacted Slinger and the UK distribution company as the ball tube is included in the 3-year warranty for the product to arrange a replacement. This design flaw must have been known by Slinger as I was told a new version of the ball tube would be sent over once it was available. Although it did take some time for the replacement tube to be sent, the new ball tube I was sent has a smarter design that should not break after a few sessions.
The Wilson Triniti balls work perfectly well for the task. Because they are compression less balls they will only degrade with use and not from being outside their cannister. You can tell they are not pressurised balls however due to the noise made when you make contact with the ball. I have played with hitting partners who find this distracting, but personally I have no issue with this.
The phone holder does it's job. You can attach your phone to the holder, which is attached to the Slinger and you can film yourself hit serves or whatever it is you want to do. A nice feature that works as intended. Next.
The oscillator is an interesting piece of equipment. You sit the bag on top of the oscillator, which is then plugged into your bag and from the remote you use to turn the launcher on and off, you can also set the oscillator to rotate back and forth. The launcher however, does not synchronise with the oscillator. Which means balls will launch from the bag at random points whilst it is rotating and it is therefore difficult to create any sort of structured drill using this accessory. I also found the oscillator would turn itself off in the middle of a drill and I would have to go back to the bag and try get it connecting to the bag properly. In all honesty this is probably the main feature of the bag I am not a fan of and would have been happy without. Although, if you want to hit the ball from different locations on the court, the oscillator does the job once you get it working so it might be something you enjoy more than I did.
As I mentioned, the remote turns the ball launcher on and off, as well as the oscillator. I have had no issues using the remote. But it is important to remember, you cannot start the launcher without the remote! So whatever you do, don't lose it. Keep it in one of the many Slinger pockets when you are done using it.
There is also an inbuilt phone charger that allows you to charge your phone as you practice hitting balls. A nice feature that I have nothing bad to say about. But a better tip from me would be to make sure your phone is charged before you leave the house! Do I need a ball machine? It is all well and good me reviewing a product and saying how good it is. But often, people don't address whether someone like you (I am guessing an amateur club level or recreational player) actually need a machine like this? Could your money be spent better elsewhere? The answer is 'it depends'.
For the price of a Slinger bag with 72 balls I could get 46 one-to-one coaching sessions with my local coach (who is fantastic by the way) and I would improve my game far greater with a coach than with 46 sessions using a Slinger bag. It is important to remember that a lot of the time spent using the Slinger bag you will be collecting balls in-between drills which is a lot of time lost. It's also not much fun on a cold and windy October day if you have to stop running and you're cold walking around picking balls up with a tube.
So who does the Slinger bag suit? If you have the time to use it and want something you can pick up and play with on the spur of the moment and don't have a routine where you can play with a hitting partner or coach at set times, then a Slinger bag is a brilliant training partner. If you live in a warm climate, have access to indoor courts or you don't mind only using the bag during the warmer/less wet months it is also a great product to play with.
If you are a coach and want to try some interesting drills but don't want to be stuck feeding balls all the time, it could be a great training aid for you.
Are you focused on learning the game and/or have friends you can play with regularly? Or do you have the ability to get coaching? I would recommend skipping on the Slinger bag and playing with your friends/coach/club members. As nothing beats playing with a human opponent (unless they can create some really advanced androids).
The Slinger bag is a great product I have been using for around a year now. As someone who can't always find time to play with other club members, it is great to head out to the court and hit some balls. I have never found the launcher to be too simple, if you know the types of drills you want to practice, even the most advanced players can get some good practice out of the Slinger bag. It's all about finding the right speed, feed and elevation settings.
It is not perfect and if I could change one thing, it would be a smarter design where balls don't get left in the corners of the bag after the launcher stops firing balls. I also wish I had a little robot friend that could pick the balls up whilst I am playing and put them back in the bag (but that's maybe a little unreasonable of me).
If you love tennis and know you would get the hours out of using a machine like this I would recommend it. If you already struggle to play more than once a week and that wouldn't change if you bought one of these, I would think again.