Brian Gottfried came from behind twice in the finals to win the $175,000 Washington Star International tennis tournament yesterday, beating Jose-Luis Clerc, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, in a match noteworthy for its grit and controversy, if not artistry.

Gottfried, who won $24,500 for his efforts, lost his serve twice early in the third set. But each time he broke back to even the match. His effort answered that of Clerc, who, after losing the first set after a line call controversy, came back from 1-3 to win the middle set.

"The key for me was right after he broke me to go up, 2-1, in the last set," said Gottfried, the losing finalist here in 1977. "He was playing really well right then and looked confident. But he got careless on a couple of shots and let me break back. If he had won that game the math might have been different."

Clerc, who won $12,250, was upset over the line call he believed cost him the first set.

Serving at 5-6, 15-all, Clerc hit a forehand deep into the corner that Gottfried ran down and lobbed back weakly. "I thought it was going out," Gottfried said. "It wasn't a good shot. I was surprised when there was no call."

Not nearly as surprised as Clerc. As he approached the ball, which appeared to hit on or wide of the right sideline, depending on the spectator's vantage point, he pulled up and tapped it over the net. Then, as Gottfried moved in and put the weak shot away, Clerc turned his back on his opponent and motioned with disgust at line judge Milton Andrews, who had not made a call.

Clerc made a circle in the Har-tru clay in the doubles alley at the spot where he insisted the ball had landed. Andrews got out of his chair, walked to the spot and pointed at the tape, indicating that part of the ball had hit there. Andrews refused to change his call.

Clerc continued to argue, but to no avail. Clerc then threw the next two points away on unforced errors to give Gottfried the set. As soon as his backhand sailed wide on set point, Clerc turned to Andrews and made the obscene gesture that has become Jimmy Connors' trademark when he gets angry.

For his gesture, Clerc was fined $250 after the match by Dick Roberson, Grand Prix supervisor.It marked the second straight day that a player was fined after a controversy with an official. Corrado Barazzutti was fined $500 for hitting a ball in the direction of an official after losing to Clerc Saturday.

"That gesture was not just for the one judge. It was for all the judges all week," Clerc said. "They were terrible. It was ridiculous. The ball was really, really outside. It was really stupid, what he did."

Having lost his composure long enough to lose the first set, Clerc appeared ready to take himself completely out of the match when he lost his serve at love in the fourth game of the second set to go down, 3-1.

But he then calmed down and began to hit the kind of deep, well-paced ground strokes that enabled him to reach the final here and have made him one of the world's top clay court players at the age of 21.

"I didn't play any worse; he just got much better," said Gottfried. "He was passing me well when I came to the net. But I had decided after he broke me that I had to be aggressive, had to come to net. If I stayed back he was going to outsteady me and win the match."

Clerc broke Gottfried at love in the fifth game of the set. He broke again in the seventh game with back-to-back forehand passing shots that Gottfried could not touch. Clerc then held his own serve twice to even the match.

"I was feeling confident then," said the curly-headed Argentine who beat Gottfried in Davis Cup play in Buenos Aires earlier this year. "But Brian is tough. He never quits, even when you think you have him."

Gottfried's tenacity was evident throughout the third set. He survived one deuce in his first service game to hold, but was broken in the third game when Clerc lofted a perfect topspin lob just over his racquet. Clerc appeared in control and on his way to victory.

But this is not the Gottfried who fell from the third position on the Association of Tennis Professionals computer in 1977 to 28th early this year. The slumping Gottfried of 1979 would have started to analyze his mistakes at this point, to brood over his errors.The Gottfired of 1980, who has now won two tournaments and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in his last three outings, blocks everything from his mind.

"I stopped thinking, that's what I've been doing lately," Gottfried said. "I just tried to see the ball on each shot and get the break back. Everyone has been asking me what I've been doing right lately. Well, it's like a baseball player on a hot streak. You can't explain why you're so hot. You just know the ball looks as big as a grapefruit."

Gottfried broke back, with some help from Clerc, who netted a backhand approach shot at deuce, then missed an easy volley to give Gottfried the game.

Then, in true Jekyll-and-hyde fashion, Clerc came back to play a brilliant game, winning perhaps the three best points of the match -- one of which lasted 38 hits, another 39 -- to break Gottfried again. For the first time the capacity crowd of 5,800 in the Rock Creek Tennis Stadium was really in the match, cheering for both players.

"When I got to 3-2, I got excited, thinking about winning the tournament," Clerc said. "I tried to play too fast and it got away from me."

Quickly, Gottfried broke back to 3-all as Clerc missed a forehand at 15-40 for the game. The players had been on the court for more than two hours, but a breeze kept the conditions comfortable and neither looked fatigued.

In the seventh game, Gottfried survived a break point with a strong forehand down the line, then nailed two first serves to get to 4-3. Clerc held easily for 4-4.

Gottfried, who made more than 60 percent of his first serves, served perhaps his best game of the day at 4-all, ending the game with a first serve that Clerc just blocked back and a volley he couldn't touch.

Now the crowd was thinking tie breaker. But at 30-all Clerc tried to surprise Gottfried with a rare foray to the net. He got the high ball he wanted, but it was to his backhand and he could not control it, punching the ball long to get Gottfried to match point.

"If I had the chance, I wanted to go to my strength," Gottfried said. "I decided if I had the chance I would come in." He got the chance and hit a forehand deep. Clerc threw up a semideep lob and Gottfried hit an overhead that Clerc reached in plenty of time, but his forehand caught the net and Gottfried had the title.

In the doubles finals, Hans Gildemeister and Andres Gomez defeated Gene and Sandy Mayer, 6-4, 7-5.