The atmosphere was relaxed, the food and drink lavish, but underlying it all was the big question: Would Vice President George Bush end up playing Secretary of State Alexander Haig in CBS' annual tennis tournament?

As it turned out, those two did not meet across the net, but the suspense was a big part of what kept everyone interested all evening long. Several hours, drinks and plates of food later, Norton Cutler, an attorney, and his partner, David Markey, a Senate staffer, conquered Andy Ockerhauser, executive vice president of WMAL, and his partner, Chris Coursen, a Senate staffer, in the finals.

As Bill Lilly, vice president of CBS in Washington, put it in his opening remarks, "We'll see the secretary of state play with the partner of his choice." And Lilly, veteran emcee for the tournament, joked that everyone invited, including members of the government and the media, had called his office to ask the names of their partners.

Said Haig: "I'm always up for a good game." He shared one with Swedish Ambassador Count Wilhelm Wachmeister, who happens to play a very good game.

The tournament, at the Arlington YMCA Tennis and Squash Club, offers Washington's clout a chance to ditch their pinstripes, pull on their warm-up suits and get in some tennis between eating, drinking and socializing. On guest admitted that for serious tennis players the tournament isn't very serious. But everyone takes that for granted. It's CBS' way of mixing the media and the political people and simply having a good time.

Even Barbara Bush, whose husband was considered one of the better players (he won the tournament two years in a row), said, "I think you're taking it too seriously," when someone asked the vice president if he uses a special technique.

"I'm up for it," said Bush. "We've got the momentum on our side." Also on his side was his partner, Bob Pierpoint, a CBS Washington correspondent. As she sat calmly by the large window, watching her husband play, Mrs. Bush laughed, "You can be critical when you're not playing."

Besides well-meaning criticism, it was a perfect time to ridicule each other's athletic ability. "I hope he's tall, thin and good-looking," said Andy Rooney of his partner. Fidgeting with his name tag, which wouldn't hold together, Rooney said, "I don't warm up, I get tired as soon as I start. So I just start." And off he went to lace up his loosely fitted sneaker.

Excuses were made by those who didn't play. "I've got a pinched nerve," said Vince Wasilewski, president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

"He's got a pinched nerve, but he's a great authority," said Kappy Leonard, wife of CBS president Bill Leonard, who did not attend.

Husbands and wives were pitted against one another with good humor. "It was a very weak moment," Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex) said, referring to the instance when he agreed to play doubles with his wife. "I just stay on my side of the court."

Media colleagues bantered words over drinks while their friends volleyed on the courts. "Who was that man? I don't remember him," joked Dick Wiley about himself, former Federal Communications Commission chairman. "Those ex-chairmen fade pretty quickly," he called to Bob Lee also of the FCC.

But Lee put it all in perspective when he said, "When you get the urge to exercise, lay down till it goes away."