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Holt fell asleep and I thought about the ways tennis has changed. Gone are wooden rackets. White balls gave way to yellow. A certain courtliness has been lost.

Once a game of ground strokes -- graceful swooping forehands and backhands -- tennis had a power surge in the 1970s and '80s. The dominant players served and volleyed with swift, hard-hitting ferocity. Today the speed and power remain -- especially in the serves -- but the game has become a fascinating combination of backcourt and net play.


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

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I have changed, too. I am older. While tennis has sped up, I have slowed down. A game I once took for granted I now appreciate more than ever. In the car, I began plotting a return to Bethany. And in the west, the sun dropped the drop in the sky like a fuzzy yellow, well . . .

You know what I was thinking.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: On a light-traffic day in winter, Bethany Beach, Del., is a little less than three hours from Washington. Take Route 50 east across the Bay Bridge toward Ocean City, Md.; pick up Route 404 east to Georgetown and Route 9 east toward Lewes. At Route 1, head south through Dewey Beach to Bethany Beach. The Sea Colony Resort office is in the Market Place shopping center on the south side of Bethany Beach at the corner of Route 1 south and West Way Drive.

WHERE TO STAY: You can rent a condo at Sea Colony through several agencies, including ResortQuest (800-732- 2656, www.resortquestdelware.com) and Tansey-Warner (800-221-0070, www.tanseywarner.com). In peak summer season, condos rent by the week. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, you can rent units for the weekend, with at least a two-night minimum. Oceanfront condos go for around $100 a night or more. Inland condos near the tennis center rent for about $75. One- to five-bedroom units are available.

WHERE TO EAT: For breakfast, the Cottage Cafe (Route 1, Bethany Beach) -- convenient to Sea Colony -- offers a weekend brunch. One of the best-selling dishes is the $8.99 crabcake-filled eggs Marylander. For lunch, we stopped by the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach (113 Dickinson St.) for a $10 crabcake sandwich. For dinner, we tried Bethany Blues (6 N. Pennsylvania Ave.), a happy-atmosphere barbecue. The blackened tuna ($19) and salmon salad ($11) were great; the key lime cheesecake ($7 for a thin slice), overpriced.

TENNIS: Mini-camps at Dave Marshall's Tennis Advantage on the Sea Colony's many indoor and outdoor courts are available most weekends between Jan. 1 and Memorial Day and cost $200, which includes 10 hours of tennis lessons. Info: 302-539-4488, www.tennisadvantage.com. There are clinics and tournaments for all ages throughout the summer. The center offers a free matching service that will help you find a game with someone on your level. Sea Colony guests do not have to pay court rental fees. There are some charges for special events, such as round-robin socials and junior cookouts.

INFO: Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-962-7873, www.visitsoutherndelaware.com.


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