It should have been a day when Jake Wells could join the millions of other Americans who didn't have to work, but it wasn't.

For Wells, Independence Day carried the opposite meaning: dozens of participants in yesterday's fourth annual Skip Davis Memorial Open tennis tournament were depending on him in various capacities of umpire, rules-interpreter, strategist and critic.

As Wells stood watching the simultaneous action on four courts at the Kenilworth-Parkside Recreation Center, he remarked, "I sure hope nothing happens. When I have to do something, it stops me from drinking beer."

But there was no way that Wells could fade into background for long. The silver-haired 65-year-old, wearing a bright green warmup suit, stood out, even among the colorful and fashionable garb modeled by the young professionals who were competing along with high school players.

The 200-plus tennis buffs were participating in a tournament in memory of one of their own Norval (Skip) Davis was 25 years old when killed during a street robbery in 1975. He had been instrumental in promoting tennis among disadvantaged youth in the far Northeast area.

The proceeds from the tournment's entry fees, plus the sale of refreshments at the tournament, have gone into a fund of the Deanwood Tennis Association. The money is allocated for the use of inner-city youths in learning and honing their tennis games: equipment, lessons and court-rental fees.

Several of the products of the program played yesterday. Notable among them were Tony Wigfall, a four-year veteran of the program who will attend Johnson C. Smith University on a tennis scholarship this fall, and his sister, Tonya. Tonya, who just completed her sophomore year at H.D. Woodson High, played on the school's boys team, winning five of six matches last season.

But the players who most needed Wells' counsel were not future stars such as the Wigfalls. Instead it was the older group of players in their upper 20s and 30s who converged on Kenilworth-Parkside from other playgrounds in the city such as Takoma, Turkey Thicket, Congress Heights and Anacostia.

Wells' advice to one player who was disappointed in his performance in a match just completed was. "Don't worry about it. Since you won, you couldn't have done any better."

"This tournament is more fun than a lot of others because it's evenly contested," commented Wells. "Nobody beats anybody else love and love. The players are more relaxed because they know each other."

That philosophy was of little comfort to Frank McDougaid, one of the tournament's organizers who had just lost a first-round doubles match.When last seen. McDougald and a friend were motoring away to find an empty court, not yet having had their share of tennis for the day.

While watching the tournament, one entrant, an obstetrician, was questioned by a friend. The doctor who carried a beeping paging device, was asked. "Why do you need to have that thing? You won't get any calls on a holiday. Don't you know that all labor is off today?

Undaunted by these proceedings was the entourage of J.B. Shelton, an evangelist from Hiwassee, Va., who had parked about 300 yards across a field from the courts. The red-lettered advertising on the side of his truck read: "Healing, Miracles, Blind see." At last report, none of the losing tennis players had requested his services.

Similarly unaffected by the tournament were the neighborhood residents who stayed away en masse. They missed some occasional fine play, such as that by Terri Gill, the top seed in women's singles. Gill's quarterfinal match against fourth-seeded Brenda Hall attracted the biggest group of spectators up to that point. A strong forehand plus multiple netted returns by Hall lifted Gill to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Hall, undetererd by her set back, immediately had to rush over to the tournament's other site, Kelly Miller Playground. She was, like many other players, entered in more than one age category.

Wells said of one woman who had just begun playing in the junior veterans (35-and-older) grouping this year: "She could have played in that bracket two years ago but if I tell her that , she'll knock my head off."