Most tennis junkies will be familiar with the conundrum of being seized by a sudden urge to head out for a knock-up – and then not being able to find an equally enthusiastic playing partner at short notice. Or, in the era of coronavirus, lockdown gets in the way.
Now there’s an answer to the problem that could almost have been designed with social-distancing in mind, and might just be the most ingenious bit of tennis kit to have been invented since the racquet.
As the name suggests, the Slinger Bag is a bag that ‘slings’ balls. But there’s more to it than that, because it brings easy-to-use portability and professional quality to a device that’s most commonly bought by clubs.
Developed by a Maryland-based startup, the £780 Slinger Bag ball launcher project raised $1 million through Kickstarter and resulted in 2,650 pre-orders, making it the most popular sports-based campaign in the platform’s history.
From the outside, the bag looks like a conventional (if large-ish) item of wheeled luggage – but opening a zipped pocket in the top reveals a hopper with capacity for 144 tennis balls, while a hinged door at the base conceals a control unit and launching chute.
One of Slinger Bag’s particular selling points is portability. It weighs 15kg when empty, with a full complement of tennis balls adding another 8kg, which, combined with the bag’s generous dimensions, mean picking it up and chucking it in the boot is certainly not something that can be done with one hand. That said, most tennis players should be fit enough to manage and, were the bag significantly lighter, its essential stability would be impaired.Once you’re on court, things couldn’t be easier. The maker claims a set-up time of just one minute: place the bag on its separate, plastic base, lock open the door covering the control unit and adjust the dial controls to give the desired speed of delivery (up to 40mph) and ball feed rate (two to ten seconds) before screwing up a knob at the side to set the angle of trajectory (ten to 40 degrees).
With the device positioned somewhere behind the service box, it’s then just a matter of heading to the other side of the net and setting the Slinger Bag in action using the remote-control fob.
After a bit of whirring as the electric motor gets the delivery wheel mounted within the chute up to speed, there’s a single warning beep – and then the balls start coming.
A second button on the fob can be used to make the bag base oscillate a few degrees left and right, thereby sending the balls to different sides of the court and enabling the player to hit both forehands and backhands.
As a practice tool for anyone who likes to perfect certain types of shot by continuous repetition (drilling), the Slinger Bag is, quite simply, a much better proposition than having a human at the other side of the net. It’s 100 per cent consistent, never gets bored, never hits balls out of the court and only gets tired when its battery runs down (which takes up to five hours, with four hours needed for a full recharge).
On top of all that, a side pocket contains a handy charger that can top-up your phone as you play, there’s a cavernous space in the top of the bag for carrying racquets, water bottles, towels and so on, and a hook at the side on which to dangle a telescopic ball pick-up tube.
There’s also a camera holder that makes it possible to attach a smartphone to the bag handle so you can film yourself in order to analyse playing technique (or marvel at how sporty you look on court).
Downsides? Other than the aforementioned weight that demands a bit of effort when loading the Slinger Bag in or out of a car, they are few and far between.Yes, the fast-spinning delivery wheel combined with the metal chute and nylon bag create sufficient static electricity to power the Eddystone lighthouse (I’ve had several minor shocks when fiddling with the settings); yes you’ll spend almost as much time picking up balls as hitting them; and yes, you will need a bit of storage space at home in which to hide the Slinger Bag when not in use.But the fact that a fully charged Slinger Bag will always be ready, willing and able whenever your racquet hand gets itchy makes up for all its minor shortcomings. And, in these socially distanced times, could there be a better way to raise your game?
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