Secretary of State George Shultz gave West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl a hero's welcome at his own embassy last night, moving him right up to the top of the list with another of his favorite West Germans, tennis ace Boris Becker.

In Becker's case, Shultz joked, "I had to carry him along" when they teamed up on the court during a visit Becker made to Washington a few years ago. "I was accustomed to more strength."

In Kohl's case, the match wasn't tennis but the INF Treaty, and it wasn't Shultz carrying Kohl but Kohl carrying Europe, which left no doubt at all about his strength.

As Shultz recalled, "The Soviets tried to bully us, intimidate us and you -- they did all kinds of things. But we stuck to our principles, and in the end we got exactly what we set out to get."

Looking straight at Kohl, who sat at a nearby table, Shultz went on:

"I think, Helmut, you're one of the heroes of this effort because the critical moment in the whole process was when the basing countries in Europe, Germany in the lead, deployed missiles, and it wasn't easy, we know that, but you stood up, you led the way and you did it.

"I don't think anybody here has the slightest doubt that if NATO, Germany in this case and the other countries, had not stood up to that, we wouldn't have this treaty. There is no doubt about it."

The tribute came at the start of a dinner Kohn hosted at the end of his first full day in Washington, where he made the rounds of the Reagan administration and Congress. Among Kohl's messages was a reaffirmation of West Germany's opposition to the total elimination of nuclear weapons from Europe.

Kohl's government, responding to public and political opinion at home, has also been resisting efforts by the United States and other allies to modernize battlefield nuclear arms.

But a West German official said last night that "the spectrum" of Kohl's talks here (today he meets with President Reagan) extends beyond security.

On arms, the official continued, "Basically we are seeing eye to eye with Washington. But of course there are always nuances and differences, and these have to be discussed."

Kohl, accompanied by his wife Hannelore, and sharing the receiving line with West German Ambassador Juergen Ruhfus and his wife Karin, played host to 120 top-level Washington figures. Among them were Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci; Sens. Sam Nunn, Alan Simpson and Bill Bradley; and Reps. Lee Hamilton, Les Aspin and Tom Foley.

Inevitably, the presidential campaign came up in many discussions before dinner, and the man people seemed to be drifting toward was Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf.

"The big battle among the Democrats is how they're going to convince moderate and conservative Southern Democrats that any one of them meets that qualification of being moderate and conservative," said Fahrenkopf.

"They're all ultraliberals," he went on, "and as we head to Super Tuesday we're going to be doing our best to attract conservative Democrats and conservative independents to vote in the Republican primary."

Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson said he was spared taking sides in his state's March 5 caucuses.

"I have a very sensitive conflict. Both Bob {Dole} and George {Bush} know of it -- I've known them for years -- and neither one has put any pressure on me," Simpson said.