When the first poison-yellow tennis ball was lobbed, Miss Manners ducked. She had an idea of what else might be hurled across the net after it.

And look what did follow -- obscenities and insults, no longer muttered but frankly shouted; clothing that was alleged to express the individual inside, which is to say that it declared the person's shopping affiliations or more lucrative commercial ties; rackets tossed angrily on the ground or at other people, back talk to umpires, demands for special treatment and goodness knows what all else.

An orderly, esthetically pleasing sport, known for the purity of its conventions, including the ritualistic enactment of respect between winner and loser, has turned into something very much resembling the rest of modern life.

Miss Manners also anticipated that all these changes would be accompanied by arguments that this deplorable package of uncontrolled and rude behavior represented:

1. The democratization of a previously elitist game.

2. A flowering of individualism and self-expression.

qj 3. The necessities of the age of television.

4. An inevitable accompaniment of the glorification of champions, whose requirements, grandly called their life styles, must be met if they are to agree to be our sports heroes and heroines.

As you can imagine, poor Miss Manners was feeling flushed and exhausted without having lifted an arm. Her reply, as she picked up her parasol to stroll as far away from the nasty court as possible, was "Pooh." Bad behavior and poor sportsmanship serve no such causes.

The concept of sport, like that of other forms of civilized behavior, is based on the idea that everyone acknowledges certain arbitrary rules and forms, and then tries to shine individually within that context.

Not even sweet little ladies like Miss Manners, whose sport is the tea party need to be as exacting about conventions of dress, equipment and behavior as do athletes. A proper baseball team is composed of gentlemen who remember to wear their hats outdoors and observe traditional patterns such as taking turns and, uh, spitting on their hands.

Let us examine the arguments in favor of debasing (oh, let's have a quick pretense here of fairness and call it changing) tennis.

Tennis can be said to be elitist, in that it does require space and equipment that cost money. Nearly all sports do, which is why the facilities of schools and community organizations are desirable -- they allow everybody to participate in athletics.

But you cannot tell Miss Manners that requiring white T-shirts in place of bright and/or obscene ones is a financial drain on the players.

As for behavior, Miss Manners considers it antidemocratic to suggest that the poor can only behave badly and that therefore, lowering standards is a tribute to democracy. Actually, losing gracefully comes just as unnaturally to the rich as to the poor. But overcoming that difficulty and behaving well is one of the rare status symbols that are free and available to all.

Individual achievement is one of the things that sport measures. But when each person tries to individualize the costume and rules of a game, the result is that the true area of competition, which is athletic prowess, is muddied. The glorification of people who can simultaneously excel in sport and brattiness debases the athletic part, in Miss Manners' opinion.

Nor does she quite understand why the concept of tennis as a television show, in which the task of distinguishing between two small, identically dressed figures is accomplished by all kinds of crude effects, should be allowed to change the fundamentals of the sport. If they wish to put on a drama with unruly characters, fashion competitions and other such antics, it is perfectly all right with Miss Manners, provided no one seriously mistakes it for the fine sport of tennis.

Help! I'm employed part-time in a small office. One of the "men" we work for will, on occasion, come into our office to chat. Usually just I and one other gal are there, but it seems awkward to me when he looks at her and directs all conversation to her, thus, you might say, ignoring me.

Should I ignore him also and stay out of the conversation (this is rude, in my opinion) or act interested and take part in the chitchat?

Aren't you supposed to be working? An office is not a party, where it would be rude to pursue conversation or flirtation with one guest when it awkwardly and pointedly excludes another.

A boss certainly has the right to address one employe exclusively without worrying about whether he is entertaining everybody within earshot. So does anyone else with particular business to transact.

And unless you are eavesdropping, Miss Manners is afraid that you will have to assume that all such conversation is about business. Whatever led you to put quotation marks around an employer's gender is something you would be better off not speculating about.