In the most captivating and stirring match so far in the Washington Star International tennis tournament, eight-seeded Yannick Noah survived a badly played first set last night at Rock Creek Stadium and defeated game Chilean Belus Prajoux, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The 6-foot-4 Frenchman from the Cameroon hit a devastating array of stabbing volleys and overhead smashes to overpower his smaller, unseeded opponent and was cheered wildly by the 5,000 at the stadium court.

Noah, 21, ranked No. 15 in the world, stormed to the net at every chance to resort to topspin lobs that several times pinned Noah on the baseline on crucial points or fell for outright winners.

With Noah leading, 3-2, love-15, in the second set, the two played a marvelous point. Noah came to the net behind a powerful first serve, but Prajoux, who returned serve proudly all match, did so again, chased down Noah's first volley and shot a backhand cross court that caught Noah by surprise. At the last second, the Frenchman hurled himself to the right and punched a volley into the open court, then fell flat as the cheers swelled.

But the turning point of the match was yet to come. Tied at three games each, still in the second set, Noah blew a 40-love lead while serving and was facing a break point. But he held on to take a 4-3 lead, and won the next 10 points to take the set.

"I was in danger when he caught me after leading 40-love," Noah said. "But coming back to win the game, it gave me a lot of confidence. Maybe I was rushing too much before. His passing shots and strong serves surprised me.

"I haven't played in 10 days, but with a couple of matches like tonight, I'll be 100 percent. This match was good but dangerous."

Noah led the entire third set and rushed the net whenever possible. Prajoux, who hasn't played a match in two months, seemed to tire but kept making shots until the very end when he netted a forehand to end the match and send Noah into the second round.

"I was training hard with Jose-Luis Cler last week," Parjoux said. "But he can't cover the net like Noah. I'd dave to say he's among the best five in this tournament."

In the only other significant match of the evening, Vince van Patten defeated Scott Davis, 6-4, 6-3.

When Voctor Pecci, seeded sixth, lost the first set of his first round afternoon match to unseeded Van Winitsky, this tournament seemed destined to lost yet another seeded player to an upset.

But Pecci, a finalist in 1979, rediscovered his backhand and survived two penalty points in arguments with the umpire to defeat Winitsky, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Following Pecci's victory, Harold Solomon, the No. 5 seed, defeated old clay court nemesis Jaime Fillol, 6-4, 6-3. The afternoon's only upset saw a much stronger Jimmy Arias, 16, defeat 16th-seeded Bill Scanlon, 6-4, 6-2, in an entertaining match on a side court.

Winitsky, 22, has been somwhat of a disappointment since leaving UCLA as an all-America and winning the Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior titles in 1977. But the left-hander, ranked 79th in the world, broke through for a 5-4 lead in the first set when Pecci, ranked 13th, double faulted at 4-4. Winitsky closed out the first set with a backhand volley behind Pecci, who seemed to be tiring and frustrated. Winitsky had hit nearly every shot to Pecci's backhand.

"May backhand is consistent, but not powerful," Paraguay's best player said. "He was trying to force every shot to my backhand."

With Pecci volleying poorly, Winitsky's stategy worked. But after gaining thre break points in the first game of the second set, Winitsky mis-hit three shots, enabling Pecci to hold and serve and take a 1-0 lead.

Then leading, 5-2, Pecci hit a shot that appeared to nip the baseline and the linesman signaled it was good. But Umpire Phil Adams quickly overturned the decision and called the shot out.

"I don't understand how he can just come into the game like that with no reason," Pecci said later. "He had no cause. The linesman made the call."

Spectators near the baeline began booing and Pecci started toward Adams to argue. The umpire gave him a warning, then a penalty point for dissent, which gave the game to Winitsky and cut Winitsky's deficit to 3-5. But Pecci, appearing determined and angry, held serve on four straight points to win the set.

In the third set, with Winitsky trying to hold serve at 30-15 for a 4-3 lead, Pecci hit a lob that appeared long but was called good. Again, Adams overruled the call. Pecci slammed his racket across the top of the net and again quickly was given a penalty point.

But Pecci, who has been known to lost his temper and concentration, broke Winitsky five points later for a 4-3 lead. Each player held serve the next two games, putting Pecci in position to serve for the match. He followed to serve for the match. He followed each of five serves to the net and volleyed his way to the three-set victory.

Pecci, who collapsed on the stadium court with cramps in the Star's 1979 final against Guillermo Vilas, said he felt cramps late in the third set, but they went away quickly.

"I never cramp until I come to Washington," Pecci said. "I've taken salt, minerals, everything, but I still started to cramp."

In another afternoon match, seventh-seeded Eliot Teltscher dismissed Brad Drewett in less than an hour, 6-1, 6-2, Teltscher, still recovering from torn ligaments in his back, said he felt pain as his passing shots beat Drewett time after time.

In a semi-upset, Gabriel Urpri of Spain defeated Sammy Giammalva, 18, of Houston, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Eddie Dibbs, who entered the tournament at the last minute but is seeded 10th, eliminated Washington's Steve Krulevitz, 6-0, 6-1. Terry Moor, the No. 14 seed, lost his first set, but beat Ron Hightower, 3-6, 6-3, 6-0