She had just lost her serve to fall behind 2-3 in the first set yesterday. Martina Navratilova, the second seed in the Avon Championships of Washington, walked to her seat on the sideline, bit her lip, turned to the press table and said: "Maybe I should have been a writer. It's easier."

With that, she got up, went back to the court, and broke Claudia Kohde's serve, to even the match. Navratilova never was behind again. "Two good forehand returns, she double-faulted, and I was rolling," Navratilova said. She won, 6-3, 6-4, but it wasn't that easy, not as easy as first-round matches are supposed to be.

Tracy Austin, the first seed, says first-round matches just aren't what they used to be (i.e., easy). But you could hardly tell it from her win over Dianne Fromholtz, 6-1, 6-3, at the Smith Center last night.

Fromholtz did what any sensible player would do against Austin: she tried to draw her into the net with repeated drop shots. But the tactic backfired. Fromholtz made repeated unforced errors, netting many of the drop shots she tried, one of them the break point that gave Austin a 3-1 edge in the first set.

Austin had, in fact, one bad game. Fromholtz broke her in the second game of the second set (Austin, who had been good on 18 of 23 of her first serves in the first set, including three aces, missed four first services) and then held to go up, 3-0. "There was some of the old Dianne there tonight," Austin said. "She played realy well to make it 3-0."

Austin held to make it 1-3, and then broke Fromholtz's serve and perhaps her will. At 15-30, Fromholtz tried yet another drop shot. Austin, lingering near the base line as usual, broke toward the ball and hit a running backhand volley that sliced the court and dribbled out of bounds. At break point, Fromholtz pushed her luck once more, netting a drop shot that allowed Austin back into the set. Austin won the next four games and the match.

The last time she played in Washington, she won the Colgate Series Championships. Sciatica--"on both sides"--forced her out of tennis for 4 1/2 months. There are those who say that layoff changed Austin--for the better.

"It didn't necessarily change my point of view," she said. "But I'm having more fun now. Success came easily. Maybe I didn't realize it. I had time to think. I think I grew up. I came back eager. I saw other people get up, play tennis, run around. I couldn't run. I'd have given anything to run around. It made me realize how lucky I am."

Navratilova had a trying year, too, though for other reasons. When a reporter asked if women's tennis was headed for a crisis in 1982 over potential changes in sponsorship, Navratilova said, "I've gone through one personal crisis last year. I'm not ready for another one."

Her match with Kohde never reached the crisis stage. She didn't let it. Still, there were first-round jitters. Perhaps it was the twinge she felt in her shoulder while serving during warmups (nothing serious, she said, but she made certain to ice it). Perhaps it was the memory of her first-round loss to Kohde in Oakland last year. "I had a bit of a vendetta," she said. "I wanted to beat her bad. It cost me in the computer (rankings)."

And, perhaps it was her concentration, which was admittedly "wavering."

"It's always been in my head," she said. "Now the strokes are there. I've been too uptight, trying to win too much. It's the new year. It's the season to be jolly. If I put pressure on myself now, by the time I get to the Open, I'll be dead."

Though she did well getting her first serve in 74 percent of the time in the first set, she also managed to fall behind on her serve in every game of the set. She bailed herself out repeatedly, serving wide to Kohde's backhand, and then putting away the cross-court volley.

Navratilova was trying to stay away from Kohde's forehand passing shots, which she said "were killing me." But it was Kohde's forehand--her volleys, which aren't as strong as her backhand volleys, Navratilova says--that did her in. In the eighth game of the first set, with Navratilova ahead, 4-3, Kohde fought off two break points before hitting a forehand volley long to lose the game. Navratilova broke her serve again in the first game of the second set, when Kohde missed with a forehand cross court that landed wide.

In another first-round match, Kathy Rinaldi, age 14, easily overpowered Ann Kiyomura, 6-4, 6-1. The only thing that didn't come easily to Rinaldi, who was playing in her first Avon championship tournament since turning pro, was answering the question, "What's old?" She had no answer.

She broke Kiyomura's serve, in the 10th game of the first set, when Kiyomura double-faulted twice (including on break point) and then went on to win the first four games of the second set.