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Ace tips on tennis-heavy getaways

Richard Buonomo, who plays tennis an average of once or twice a week during the winter, takes at least one tennis vacation a year and knows exactly what he's looking for. "I'm looking for a place that says "We're going to have organized tennis play for at least five hours a day,'

" said the 31-year-old manager of the estate jewelry department at Tiffany and Co. "I literally want to play tennis all day every day for however long I can get away."

Buonomo may be more enthusiastic and energetic than many, but the lessons he has learned during his trips to tennis resorts and camps are applicable to any serious tennis vacationer.

Most good tennis resorts have teaching pros and some sort of organized clinics and game-arranging services, but if you want to take a tennis vacation during which you make a concerted effort to improve your game, you've got to do your homework.

Planning, preparing and packing right are essential for you to make the most of your playing time.

There are hundreds of tennis vacation spots. They range from summer tennis camps on the campuses of New England prep schools to no-nonsense tennis schools run by well-known teaching pros like Nick Bollettieri, Vic Braden and Dennis Van der Meer to resorts that specialize in tennis with either their own programs or contract operators such as All American Sports or Peter Burwash International.

Most of these places advertise in tennis publications, which also print directories of the resorts' addresses, number of courts, availability of instruction and more. Decide when and where you want to go and write away for brochures.

When you've narrowed your choices down to a couple of spots, start talking about your trip. "Usually by talking to friends I run into somebody who has been to the place," Buonomo said.

You should also try to speak to the tennis director. Will you get enough hours on the court? Will the teachers try to change your strokes or work with what you have? Is there an emphasis on technical details like correct grips, or will you simply hit thousands of balls a day?

What is the background of the tennis staff? Are there singles and doubles strategy sessions? Do the instructors use ball machines and videotape? Is there time after class for free play?

If you are going with a family, other questions are important. Is there a babysitting service, or planned activities for older children while you are on the court?

"Teen-agers may go crazy at a quiet resort," said Roy Barth, director of tennis at Kiawah Island, S.C.

If you are hoping to play a lot of unscheduled tennis, ask if there is an additional charge for court time outside the structured programs. Should you book lessons in advance? How many other tennis-playing guests are expected?

If you've only been playing once a week during the winter and are planning a week of hard tennis in a warm climate, you've got to get your body ready to go. "Do some running. Do some sit-ups," Barth said.

Take your familiar racket and, if you have it, a spare. A tennis clinic is not the place to begin experimenting. Have your rackets restrung and regripped before you depart.

You'll be more comfortable in an intense program wearing T-shirts instead of designer tenniswear, so bring plenty of them. Also pack two pairs of broken-in tennis shoes and lots of socks.

Also pack wrist bands, a hat or visor, plenty of sunscreen and lots of adhesive tape. "You could play tennis two or three times a week your whole life and never get a blister," Buonomo said. "But when you play for five hours a day, you've got to tape ahead of time."

Once you reach your destination, pace yourself. You can't play all day and party all night at the beginning of the week without paying for it later.

If you are not in an organized program, check in at the tennis complex as soon as you arrive. "Don't sit in your room and expect people to call you," Barth said. "Hang around the courts. Introduce yourself to the pros, the shop people, the tennis coordinator. Then they'll look out for you."