Jim Delaney stared straight ahead and sipped his Gatorade as he listened to Bruce Manson talk about how well Delaney had played against him.

"He just needs to play some matches," Manson was saying. "Once he gets match-tough again I think he'll do real well."

Delaney, 26, won $613 this week in the Washington Star International Tournament as a first-round loser. He had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the first round.

It looked for a while yesterday as though he would make it at least to the second round. Serving and volleying superbly, he won the first set from Manson, 6-2, and was up, 4-2, in the second before the roof slowly caved in on him. Manson eventually took control but had to struggle to win, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, in a match worth enduring the heat to watch.

Delaney was disappointed in defeat but encouraged by his performance. Because at 26, Delaney, who lives in Potomac, is on the comeback trail.

In October 1977 Delaney had risen to a ranking of 60th on the ATP computer. That meant he could play in any tournament he wanted to. The four-time Stanford All-America, who lived in both Thailand and Japan growing up as the son of a State Department diplomat, was making it on the tour.

Then he began experiencing pain in his right shoulder. When he stopped playing for a while, the pain went. But it returned almost the minute he picked up a racket.

"I spent most of 1978 traveling around the country talking of different doctors looking for an answer," Delaney said. "Finally I realized I was going to have an operation, like it or not."

The thought of an operation did not please Delaney. "The thought that I might not be able to play any more tennis did cross my mind," he said.

In October 1978, doctors removed calcium deposits from the shoulder that had been rubbing against the tendon. Delaney tried to come back too fast early this year, playing three tournaments unsuccessfully.

Manson was one of the people Delaney practiced with before playing here. "I couldn't believe the difference between today and three weeks ago when we practiced together," Manson said. "Jim just hit the ball so much better it was unbelievable. If he keeps working, he's going to win some matches."

It looked for a long while like Delaney would win a match yesterday. Even when Manson went up a break at 3-1 in the final set Delaney battled back to square things.

Then, down 5-6, Delaney dug himself into a 15-40 hole. Still aggressive, he followed two serves to the net for winning volleys, the second one a diving effort.

But then he netted a volley. Another match point. The crowd, solidly behind him, yelled encouragement. Manson nailed a backhand in the corner, Delaney just reached it and lobbed back. A Manson overhead, another Delaney get but not good enough as Manson put the lob away for the match.

"I've still got a ways to go," said Delaney. "Playing qualifying doesn't discourage me. I know I can play on the tour because I've done it before."

And now he is trying to do it all over again. If yesterday was any indication, Delaney will make it again.