Because Ivan Lendl had won his first-round match in the Washington Star International so convincingly, 6-0, 6-2, there was little need for the assembled media to ask Lendl about his strategy, specific points or a certain forehand winner. So the questions became more personal.

"Where are you staying and what are you going to do while you're in the nation's capital, Ivan? Are you going to do any sightseeing while you're here?"

"Why do you ask that?" Lendl replied. "I will just play tennis, sleep, rest, practice and sleep again. I will answer any other questions you have about tennis, but I don't like questions about other things."

Asl Lendl about tennis and he will talk at length -- about his No. 4 ranking in the world, about his forehand, which may be the best in tennis, about what he must do to improve. But he refuses to discuss his off-court activities.

"I don't feel that because I'm a tennis player everybody should know where I am at 2 p.m. or what kind of music I like, food I eat, or girls I go out with. If I were an attorney or journalist would there be that kind of interest? I don't think so."

Personal privacy is not the only reason Lendl is cautious about whom he talks to and what he talks about. Lendl is a Caechoslovakian who earned $584,000 last year as the No. 3 money winner on the men's tennis tour; some wonder why he would want to remain a citizen of a Communist country, where he is required to surrender 20 percent of his income to the government.

Martina Navratilova, another Czech who had the talent to reach the top of the tennis rankings and earning potential, defected to the United States (she became a naturalized U.S. citizen in Los Angeles Monday). Some people has assumed Lendl will do the same. In Houston last year after winning his first championship, a reporter dogged Lendl about the possibility of his following in Navratilova's footsteps. A confused and understandably angry Lendl left the press conference in a huff and has been wary of any reporter since.

"His political situation is such that all he has to do is be misquoted or misunderstood and he could be in serious trouble," said Jerry Solomon, Lendl's manager. "Even though the press has a legitimate interest in Ivan's relationship with his government and how much prize money he turns over the the government, he runs the huge risk of getting in deep trouble."

Lendl has said he does not plan to defect. That's as far as he'll go on the subject.

Because Lendl is so close-mouthed, he is one of the least known andmost misunderstood players in tennis. Most casual tennis fans in America don't know Ivan Lendl or how he achieved world ranking seemingly overnight with so little fanfare.

Most people usually list McEnroe, Borg and Connors as the world's best, then lump Lendo "somewhere in the bottom 10."

But Lendl, at 21, is having a big impact on tennis. He has taken six straight sets from John McEnroe and forced Bjorn Borg to four sets in the Stuttgart championship last week and five sets in the French final.

He has yet to beat Jimmy Connors, but is solidly the No. 4 player in the world. Should he win another clay court tournament in the next few weeks, he could move past Connors into the third spot because of the Association of Tennis Professionals computer ranking system.

"They (the top three) are better than me, even if I've beaten them sometimes," Lendl said yesterday. "But it doesn't bother me that they get most of the attention. I need to be No. 3. That's a crucial point. Maybe then the attention will come."

He was the world's top junior player three years ago, winning the Wimbledon, French and Italian junior titles and the Orange Bowl. As a 19-year-old, he beat three players in the top 10, and was named men's rookie of the year by Tennis Magazine. But he has not yet won a Grand Slam tournament. His most impressive credential is a Canadian Open championship last year over Borg.

Until recently, Lendl was thought of as the stereotypical clay courter. He remains at the base line and is content to play one point for 15 minutes until the opponent makes an unforced error or until he is able to nail a forehand for a winner.

Lendl's most obvious improvement the last three months has been his ability to come to net and volley with confidence. After losing in the first round at Wimbledon, Lendl went to Boca West, Fla, his base in the United States, for 10 days to practice volleying.

"If you want to be one of the to three players in the world, you have to play on all surfaces," he said.

So while Lendl tries to break into the to three, people like Solomon, who represents him, will try to explain to the American public that Ivan Lendl deserves their attention.