Toni Gorman, the merry Irishman of the pro tennis circuit, was asked to lead the St. Patrick's Day parade today in his hometown of Seattle. He sent his regrets, explaining that he is playing in the $100,000 Volvo Classic here, but assured the son of Erin that he would march in Washington's parade.

"I don't know where it is, but I'll find it," said Gorman, exhausted and happy after beating seventh-seeded Cliff Richey, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, in a 2-hour 40-minute match that was a dramatic masterpiece.

Gorman was down, 2-6 - quadruple match point - and had a fifth match point against him at 6-7 in the final-set tiebreaker. He came back to win it, 11-9, as Richey netted a stretching backhand volley off a hard forehand on Gorman's third match point.

"There was a lot of emotion spilled on that court," said Gorman, perhaps understating the case. If the match had been played in the evening, instead of before a meager matinee audience at George Washington University's Smith Center, it would have brought the house down.

Gorman, 31, has been playing well of late but has not enjoyed the luck of the Irish when tournament draws are made. In eight tournaments, he has been drawn against one of the top seeds in the first round five times. But now he is in the quarterfinals of this 32-man Grand Prix event, his best showing since he reached the semis of the Towson International in January.

He has today off, and says he definitely will march in the St. Patty's Day parade. "I was seriously thinking about having my hairdresser dye my hair green, but I decided against it," he said. It would have matched the dominant color of his line of tennis clothes, which bears a Shamrock logo.

Gorman's next opponent will be the winner of a match between Jeff Borowiak and either top-seeded Bjor Borg, the 20-year-old Wimbledon champ, or Hank Pfister. Borg and Pfister were paired in the final first-round match last night.

In other matches yesterday afternoon, former Stanford All-American Chico Hagey eliminated Charlie Pasarell in a first-rounder, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, and Sandy Mayer walloped eighth-seeded Brian Fairlie, 6-3, 6-1, to reach the quarters.

Artistically and emotionally, however, Gorman over Richey was the tour de force. It had a little of everything, including numerous controversial officiating decisions, several of which caused acrimonious disputes.

"There was an awful lot of tension out there. We were both tight: we both really wanted to win," said Gorman. "When you come down to it, the difference in the match was about one point.

"I have nothing but admiration for Cliff. He is such a competitor . . . I think he and (Harold) Solomon are the gutsiest guys on the tour.

"You know that he's going to be fighting all the way, from the warmup to the last point. He even hits passing shots in the warmup, which tells you something about the way he plays.

"I remember the first time I ever palyed him, I was intimidated because I had never seen anyone that intense. But I love to play him, because he brings out the best in me."

Gorman was able to raise the level of his game, which is based on quickness and serve-and-volley, on the most critical points.

The match was full of twists and turns. Many big points were won by scrambling and hustle and by questionable line calls.

In the first set, Gorman saved two set points at 4-5, then had three break points for 5-5 but led Richey off the hook.

Gorman led, 3-0, in the second set, lost the advanatged, then served for the set twice, at 5-3 and 6-5.He was broken both times, but finally took the set in a tie breaker, 7 points to 5.

But all that was prelude to a final set that unfolded like Joycean stream-of-consciousness.

Gorman led, 3-1, but Richey broke back in a game in which he had his second heated exchange with umpire Julius Silverstein, who overruled service linesman Larry Albert on a key point.

Gorman broke again for 4-3, held for 5-3 with one of his flock of aces, then won only one of the next eight points.Richey broke him with a blistering forehand passing shot as he served for the match.

Gorman broke again for 6-5. Again he was broken as he served for the match. Three times, Richey ran around to crunch forehand returns off second serves.

Into the tie breaker they went again, and Richey - his eyes and calf muscles bulging - scrambled to a 6-2 lead.

On the first match point, Richey put in a good serve to Gorman's backhand and blasted a forehand off the short return. Gorman guessed, correctly, that he would go cross-court, and dumped a volley down the line. Richey miraculously retrieved the bal, but Gorman ultimately put a backhand volley into an open court off a pop-pop-pop-pop exchange of volleys.

Gorman had service back and hit two decisive first volley winners to make it 5-6. On his fourth match point, Ritchey double-faulted and they were back even.

Each player produced his best shot-making on the other's serve, and finally Gorman won when Richey heart-breakingly netted that volley.