WHEN THEIR VOLLEYS NEED SHARPENING OR THEIR SECOND SERVE DROOPS A BIT, the top players in the world go back to school, often high-tech tennis compounds overseen by doting, driving professors of the net. Whether you're a novice or a club player, you can also enroll in camps, clinics, and academies that will lift your level of play, if not bombard you with a million balls. Since the tennis camp boom in the early 1970s, only a select number of schools have emerged as leaders in the United States and Canada. Some are run like boot camps, while others resemble -- or are part of -- country clubs, north-woods retreats, or beachside resorts. All, however, follow through with a sound regimen for improvement.
AMELIA ISLAND PLANTATION TENNIS ACADEMY
Amelia Island, Fla.
Play in idyllic Racquet Park, shaded with live oaks and adjacent to beach, marsh, and golf links. There is no multi-day school, but you can piece together daily two-hour clinics. Academy aims to eliminate errors and keep the point alive. Tennis instructional package includes two-hour lesson, unlimited court time, and use of ball machine, from $329 per night.
AMHERST TENNIS CAMP AT AMHERST COLLEGE
Long-running boot camp thriving since early 1970s on Amherst College's ivied campus. Rousing drills on 36 courts refine existing strokes. Three half-hour private lessons included. With junior camp (ages 10 - 17) operating nearby, perfect for families. Four all-inclusive options are available: Sunday - Thursday at $615, Sunday - Wednesday at $525, Thursday - Sunday at $565, and Friday - Sunday at $395.
COLONY BEACH & TENNIS RESORT
Longboat Key, Fla.
Clubby tennis hangout (touring pros come and go) stages clinics on long weekends twice a month except busy Mar. and Apr. Morning drills, supervised match play afternoons, and lots of time for the resort's great food, fine white beach. Condo bungalows are comfortable, if tightly bunched. Four- to seven-day stays, including one or two clinics, range from $995 to $1,695 per person including lodging and breakfast.
HARRY HOPMAN/SADDLEBROOK INTERNATIONAL TENNIS
Wesley Chapel, Fla.
Noted for its junior program, Hopman also trains adults on a regimen developed for kids: fast-moving drills stressing preparation and conditioning. With tiring pace and resort toys at hand (two huge pools, two golf courses, full fitness center), half-day sessions are enough. Two-day weekend clinics, with lodging, $424 - $444 per person.
INN AT MANITOU
Solid instruction at a lovely lakefront setting 150 miles north of Toronto. Attractive 33-room inn, serving fine food, open May - Oct. All-inclusive tennis packages range from $686 per person for three days to $1,947 for a week, depending on the size and class of your room. Manitou-Wabing sports and arts camp is nearby.
JOHN GARDINER'S TENNIS RANCH IN CARMEL VALLEY
Carmel Valley, Calif.
The John Gardiner flagship operation in California (12 years older than Scottsdale) may provide the most elegant tennis vacation in the country. Favored by 50-plus country clubbers happy with jacket-and-tie edict at dinner. Teaching is highly personalized, and the food is tops. A steep $3,300 - $3,500 for Sun. - Fri. week. Open Apr. 1 - Dec. 1.
JOHN GARDINER'S TENNIS RANCH ON CAMELBACK
Chic, expensive, formal, and beginning to show its age, the ranch is drawing a somewhat younger clientele, singles among them, and is updating the food. Instruction remains spirited and thorough. Sun. - Sun. weeks start at $2,996 per person, three-night sessions $650, depending on size of casita; all meals included.
JOHN NEWCOMBE'S TENNIS RANCH
New Braunfels, Tex.
Ex-star "New" isn't always around, but his tactics are in evidence. Stroke improvement, not conditioning, is stressed at this 28-court complex, 30 minutes from San Antonio. Popular weekend package (two nights, three clinics, all meals), $250 - $405 per person in cottage or condo.
KILLINGTON SCHOOL FOR TENNIS
Director Barry Stout does things differently: he videotapes every stroke (with immediate classroom analysis) and starts with the volley, something downplayed at most camps. Two-, three-, and five-day packages or weekend clinics, including motel room and meals in Clubhouse Grill, start at around $599. Green Mountains are a cooling backdrop. Open May - Sept.
LA QUINTA HOTEL GOLF & TENNIS RESORT
La Quinta, Calif.
Michael Bolton or Danny DeVito may be on the next court at this historic hideaway near Palm Springs. Old hacienda serves as clubhouse for 21 hard, six grass, three Har-Tru courts. Clinics range from $270 to $430 a day including room; or join multiday program. Room rates start at $305 double.