Just before Pam Shriver went on the tennis court for her first-round match in the Avon Championships of Washington, a friend leaned over and told her that her father was sitting in the stands next to a priest.

Shriver, the fifth seed and the highest seeded player in action yesterday at Smith Center, needed no help. She defeated Anne Hobbs of England, 6-4, 6-1. "I lost four points on serve," Shriver said. "One point in the first set, and three in the second, two on double faults. I missed one volley the whole match. If I go on like this, they'll have to start praying to me or something."

Shriver, who finished 1981 ranked seventh in the world according to the Women's Tennis Association computer, was not being irreligious, merely candid about how good she felt and about how well she had played. This, despite, a case of nerves, engendered by having her entire family from Lutherville, Md., in the stands: "two grandmothers, a mother, a father and two sisters . . . and I don't know who else, because I didn't look up."

Often, the first day of a tournament, any tournament, is a dull affair, with predictable results--and yawns, especially if no "big names" are playing. The first day of this $200,000 tournament was filled with goodies, including a touch of class when Hobbs gave Shriver a point on a serve initally called out by the umpire.

Sixth-seeded Bettina Bunge, a lithe blond from Florida, who was born in Switzerland, grew up in Peru and is a German citizen traveling on a U.S. passport, beat Pam Teeguarden, 6-4, 6-4, in a match, one might have called a pas de deux. The two traded lovely ground strokes and lovelier volleys.

Bunge's backhand occasionally wavered, causing her trouble. But Teeguarden did not give up. Down, 1-4, in the second set, she broke Bunge's serve to make it 2-4, and then struggled through five deuce points, and two game points against her, to make it 3-4, and then broke Bunge again to tie the set at four games each.

But at deuce, Bunge hit a soft, backhand volley that Teegaurden banged into the net. Teeguarden's volley on the next point was long. Bunge had the game, and held serve for the set and the match. "I hit some great ones, and some bad ones," Bunge said. "I think she played really well."

The day started with excitement as Anne Smith, ranked 16th in the world, saved a match point in the second-set tie breaker and defeated Mary Lou Piatek, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-0. She saved the match point at 7-6 in the tie breaker.

Smith has been known primarily for her doubles play (she has won all four Grand Slam events in the doubles). Although she came up in the ranks with Tracy Austin, she never has matched her contemporaries, or even the expectations others had for her. Serve and volleyers take longer to mature, she says. Now, at age 22, it may be the time.

After losing the first set, Smith came out steaming and won the first three games of the second set. But Piatek won the next four games, breaking Smith's serve twice, to go up, 4-3. Neither woman was being bashful. They were, as Smith said, "clocking the ball."

Smith held serve to tie the set, 4-4, and then at 5-5, before breaking Piatek with two forehand winners to go up, 6-5. Serving for the set, Smith had a set point and lost it, floating two backhands long, and then an overhead smash long.

Time for the first tie breaker of the new year. Smith immediately got herself into trouble. Piatek, the relentless ground stroker, came to the net and hit a forehand volley to go ahead, 5-2. "She was?" Smith said, incredulously. It's a good thing she didn't know.

Smith won the next two points, on Piatek's serve, and then served an ace, to tie it, 5-5. She went ahead on a service winner that Piatek could barely touch.

But Piatek, who was ranked 17th in 1981, tied it again when Smith hit a backhand that hit the cord, hung perilously in the air and dropped back. She went ahead with a backhand winner down the line.

Smith won the next two points on her own serve to go up, 8-7. Piatek tied it again, when Smith sailed another backhand long. But that was all she got. Piatek hit a forehand long, to go behind, 9-8. Smith came in behind her own serve and hit a backhand volley down the line to win the tie breaker and the set.

And, really, the match. Piatek never seemed to be in it after that. Smith, who admits she sometimes presses a bit when she is ahead, did not do so in the third set. She held serve in the first game and broke Piatek's serve in the second, then never looked back.

Smith will play the winner of today's match between No. 1 seed Austin and Dianne Fromholtz in the second round. She never has beaten Austin, not even in juniors. "I've gotten close a couple of times," Smith said. "I feel good this week. Maybe this'll be the week."

There were other first-round "firsts." JoAnne Russell, who beat Betsy Nagelsen, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, became the first player to receive a "conduct warning" from the umpire under the newly adopted disciplinary code. She was ahead. 3-2, in the second set, lost her serve to tie the set at 3-3, and kicked a ball into the stands. "You're angry, you've just lost your serve for the umpteenth time and the guy whispers it out, 'conduct penalty,' " Russell said. "I don't mind getting it, but I want it loud, so maybe I'll be embarrassed and won't do it again."

Annoyed as she was, "It was the turning point," she said. "I played better after it . . . When he gave me the warning, I was so furious he wimped out and didn't say it loud and clear."

Russell will face the winner of today's match between second-seeded Martina Navratilova and Claudia Kodhe, in the second round. "I think you could say, she (Navratilova) has the winning edge," Russell said, deadpan. "However, I do have my 'win' over her."

In other first-round matches, Pam Casale defeated Jo Durie, 6-3, 6-1; Julie Harrington beat Peanut Louie, 6-3, 6-4; Leslie Allen defeated Kate Latham, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, and Beth Norton defeated Zina Garrison, 6-2, 6-1.