"This qualifying stuff is for the birds," said Mike Cahill, one of four players who survived a three-day, 32-man tournament at the Regency Racquet Club in McLean yesterday to qualify for the final spots in the $125,000 Volvo Tennis Classic, which opens at 10 a.m. today at George Washington University's Smith Center.

Defending champion Roscoe Tanner will attempt to repeat Brian Gottfried's consecutive victories of 1977-78 and No. 3 Eddie Dibbs, among others, while second seed Harold Solomon try to stop him.

So will Cahill, who defeated Rick Meyer, 7-6, 6-4, yesterday, to secure a position in the tournament. It was the opposite of last year when he was safely ensconced in the main draw.

"When you're ranked 100th, you should expect to have to qualify," Cahill conceded. "Certain tournament cutoffs are high or low, depending upon who's playing, and there's no way to tell if you'll make it. I know I just missed getting in here."

It was the first time in two years that the 27-year-old former University of Alabama star had to endure the qualifying grind, in which defeat means wait until next week -- for a tournament and a check. No play, no pay.

"You've really got to be mentally ready to play the qualifying," Cahill explained."I had a tough time getting motivated in my first match. You can't get down on yourself for being in this position. You have to accept the fact that you're down here, then concentrate really hard to get in the main draw."

Having arrived, a qualifier then must guard against believing his journey has ended. The rewards -- at least one computer point and $985, the first-round losers' payoff -- sorely tempt one to think he's made it.

"I won't have any problem getting motivated," Cahill said. "I'm really glad I'm in the main draw. My peers are in there, and I feel I belong with them even if I had to qualify. A lot of young guys feel they don't belong in the main draw. They're afraid they won't be able to play well or that they'll embarrass themselves. Or they won't be able to play well or that they'll embarrass themselves. Or they think they've proved everything by making it past the qualifying.

"It's interesting how you take things and put them so far out of perspective. After a few years, you start understanding why experience is the best teacher."