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While waiting to play, I read some of the magazine stories about Sea Colony that had been framed on the walls. Tennis Resorts Online listed it 14th among the top 75 tennis resorts in the country. In Tennis Magazine's list of 50 Greatest U.S. Tennis Resorts -- published in November -- Sea Colony ranked No. 4 for Best Bargains, Families and Game-Matching (i.e., hooking players up with other players). The matching service is free for those staying at Sea Colony; so is court time.

My sparring partner for the morning was George Obertubbesing, an amiable guy from Chantilly who works at Computer Sciences Corp. and has owned a condominium at Sea Colony for a couple of years. We were a good match -- about the same age and temperament. We both played college tennis way back when. We played evenly enough and it was a satisfying hour of long points and close games. At one tense moment, Obertubessing eased a forehand just over the net and I went charging in. With Marshall's words swirling in my brain, I dropped the drop. And Obertubessing lobbed it over my head.

Ron Woltz of Ocean View, Del., combs the winter beach. (Art Baltrotsky For The Washington Post)

In tennis, as in life, things don't always work out.

Obertubessing was upfront about his reasons for choosing Bethany over other beaches. "Tennis," Obertubessing said after the match, "is number one for me."

He said the great thing about the tennis center -- besides the "very friendly staff" -- is the matching service. "I know I can always come over here and get a good session," he said. Like me, he had called ahead looking for a Sunday morning game.

Though Sea Colony concentrates on its image as a tennis resort, it offers other amenities. There are swimming pools -- 12 outside and a couple indoors. We were staying in the Edgewater House high-rise, where the indoor pool is small but well-kept. A large, steamy hot tub sat nearby. And, beyond the tennis courts, there was a fitness center. The complex also has a concierge service that helps with dinner reservations at local restaurants.

During the summer, there is lots to do at Bethany Beach, including swimming, fishing, sailing, golf and sea kayaking. But until it begins to get warmer, usually around Memorial Day, there's not a whole lot shaking there. When I wasn't playing tennis, I put on warm clothes and walked along the beach. Ships on the horizon glimmered in the sun. Cadres of cormorants, bobbing in the gentle waves just offshore, appeared oblivious to the icy weather. Occasionally one of the birds would stick a tail in the air and dive for food.

I read some in our oceanfront condo. And I spent long periods staring out at the ocean. When it began looking like a netless court, I returned to the tennis center. Holt and I hit another hour before we had to head home. Marshall said some high school players were coming for a clinic and invited Holt to stick around.

But Holt said he couldn't stay. He had a tennis match on Sunday night. Like father, like son.

On the way home we talked about the weekend and about various tennis strategies. It being late winter, traffic over the Bay Bridge was not bad at all.

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