Renee Richards, the 43-year-old transsexual who fought for more than year for the right to play in the women's singles of a major tennis championship, was beaten in the first round of the U.S. Open today by Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade, 6-1, 6-4.

Predictably, the match became a media event.A swarm of photographers, broadcasters and reporters were on hand to record the details of what was purposed to be a grand gesture for human rights by some, and a freak show by others.

But the public and the players treated it as exactly what it was - a first-round match that turned out to be less interesting than it might have been because Richard's was too tentative in her shotmaking and too slow afoot to offer much resistance to Wade's barrage of attacking strokes and drop shots.

Wade, 32, dominated the first set, lost her serve only once, and won in 61 minutes.

Richards was barred from last year's Open, and from this year's French and Wimbledon championships, because she first refused to take and then failed Olympic chromosome tests. Her admission to women's events was opposed by the Women's Tennis Association.

But last month a New York court ruled that the medical evidence indicates overwhelmingly that Richards is "now female," and cannot be barred from U.S. tournaments because of her failure to pass the chromosome test.

Nevertheless, Richards downplayed the social significance of her appearance today, saying."There are no other transsexuals trying to play professional sports right now, and I would be surprised if there are more than five or six over the next 10 or 15 years. I doubt seriously that there was anything precedent-setting about this at all.

". . . As a competitive tennis player. I can't think of losing 1 to 4 in the first round, even if it is to the Wimbledon champion, as any kind of a triumph. I'm very disappointed that I lost."

Obviously, it was not your typical first-round tennis match Richards last played in the main draw at Forest Hills in 1960, as Richard Raskind, losing in the first round of the men's singles to reighning Wimbledon champ Neale Fraser, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0. In 1974, Raskind lost a tough three-set match to Gene Scott in the men's 35-and-over division. to emphasize the tennis, the fact that she's a great player.

"This is what I think we should talk about rather than my past personal history,"

Wade, the No.3 seed, served well, hit thumping approach shots, and volleyed superbly to beat Richards, who looks intimidating at 6-foot-2, but doe's not play an especially powerful game and seldom ventures to the net.

A lefthander, Richards has a good forehand but pushes her backhand, often hitting off the back of her foot. She runs upright and does not anticipate particularly well, which left her vulnerable to Wade's frequent drop shots and drop volleys. Only once did she come to the net on her own, and that was not until the next-to-last game of the match.

Richard's serve is helped by her height, but she tosses the ball low, not very far in front of her, and slaps it with a fly-swatter stroke. Neither her serve or ground strokes are very forceful, and, as Wade noted, "She just doesn't go for winners enough."

"I think I'm in a very good condition," said Richards, "but condition is not only physical, it's mental. Nervous exhaustion can take its toll physically just as well as running from side to sides. I think that medical toughness comes from match play, and obviously Virginia has that."

The 16,000-seat stadium at the West Side Tennis Club was only about two-thirds full when the match began after the onesided first set, several thousand had gone off to lunch or drifted to other courts, including those where the ailing favoritea in men's singles. Bjorn Borg (sore shoulder) and Jimmy Connors (strained back), were winning their first-round matches easily.

Borg, 21, who has won Wimbledon the last two years, did not serve hard but was otherwise uninhibited by the wrenched muscles beneath his right shoulder that he injured while water-skiing last week and aggravated in practice Tuesday. He beat. Trey Waltke today, 6-2, 6-1.

"I wasn't serving well. Otherwise, I was playing exactly my game," said Borg, who reported that the shoulder was so painful Wednesday that he could not raise his arm. "It was much better when I woke up today, but it hurts still on the serve, the smash, everything that is above my head. It doesn't bother me too much on my groundstrokes."

Connors, the defending champion who celebrates his 25th bithday Friday, got heat and ultrasonic treatment for his aching back after a morning practice session and then went out and annihilated Jasjit Singh, former Indian Davis Cup player who now lives in upstate New York, 6-2, 6-0.

"I was happy with the way I played today. I was hitting the ball real well," said Connors, who has curvature of the spine and has been bothered off and on for 10 years by back problems. "I decided to play the tournament, so I play the best I can. If it hurts, it hurts. I dn't worry anout it until after I play."

All the other seeded men who played this afternoon - No. 3 Brian Gottfried, No. 5 Manuel Orantes, No. 9 Eddie Dibbs, No. 10 Dick Stockton, No. 15 Wojtek Fibak and No. 16 Stan Smith - advanced easily to the second round with straight set victories.

Chris Evert, the defending champ and No. 1 seed in the women's singles, won her 107th consecutive match on clay, dating back to August 1973. She opened the stadium program with a ritualistic slaughter of Sharon Walsh, 6-0, 6-1, in 41 minutes.