If they had a law against being too handsome, they'd send Drew Gitlin up the river and throw away the key. This fellow is 24 and looks the way Ryan O'Neal would like to. Listen, kid, you oughta be in movies. We'll make you bigger than Reynolds. If Spielberg does the Cary Grant story, you'll play the lead. Report to Paramount first thing when you get back from Wimbledon. Leave the hair curly. Cute that way.

Drew Gitlin is a tennis player who lost tonight to Jimmy Connors.

Some losers kick small dogs and burn down orphanages. Chip Hooper lost today and left town in a blue snit with four-wheel drive. Not Drew Gitlin.

This is a happy loser story. At 10 o'clock tonight, Drew Gitlin was the happiest fellow in town and a serious candidate for happiest fellow this side of the Atlantic. So he lost, big deal. He made the good fight, going four sets with a great player he once saw only on TV.

His parents, who asked why he wanted to play tennis, came 6,000 miles to sit by Court 1. And Drew Gitlin walked off the court, alongside Jimmy Connors, to the sweet sound of a standing ovation.

"What a trip," Gitlin said later. After which, he said he would like to be an actor. He is, he pointed out, "somewhat colorful."

Judging Gitlin to be under 6 feet tall, someone asked how tall he is. "Six-five . . . mentally."

And what did this fellow who is a giant in his own mind think of playing a Wimbledon champion on Court 1, the next-best thing to Centre Court? "I deserve it," he said cheerily, "after the places I've played." Such as? "In Cairo, the base line looked like the airstrip at Port Stanley. After the match, the ball boys begged you for money."

Who, it is fair that you ask here, is this Drew Gitlin character?

Until 9 o'clock tonight, nobody cared. The tennis record book carries his name and results that confirm the obvious. He never beat anybody anybody ever heard of. By 9:30, we had to find out more because under a shining half-moon at Wimbledon there was one star twinkling: Drew Gitlin.

Not only did he play wonderfully, the rookie stole the best scenes from the consummate tennis showman. As a shot by Connors bumped into the net and fell harmless, Gitlin hurled a fist at the turf in celebration so unabashed the paying customers felt good along with the kid. Connors watched, one hand on his hip, waiting in bemused silence for the laughter to subside.

"I don't think Jimmy likes anybody else to get a laugh," said Gitlin, who confessed to the obvious by adding that he is an incurable ham.

He even delivered a version of Brando's line from "On the Waterfront," saying after the bout with Connors, "I am a contender." A smile came here. "I love the sound of that word," Gitlin said. It is a love never threatened by familiarity.

Gitlin grew up in Encino, Calif. He started college at UCLA (where Connors, as a freshman, won an NCAA championship). When Gitlin wasn't good enough to play singles for UCLA, he transferred to Southern Methodist University. Last summer, as an all-America at SMU, Gitlin reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Then, on the advice of the SMU coach, pro Dennis Ralston, Gitlin passed up the minor leagues of tennis for the Grand Prix circuit with folks named Connors and McEnroe.

"I wanted to do the best I could in the big time," he said. "But I've had a draw problem."

By that he means the tournament draw each week matched him with fellows ranked in the top 30 at the time.

"The joke was on me," he said, but back home in Encino his parents, Murray and Shirley Gitlin, may not have been laughing. "When I talked about tennis, my parents, who weren't strong backers of tennis, always said, 'Yeah, all right, and when are you going to get a real job?' "

Today, sitting in the Wimbledon rain, Murray and Shirley Gitlin were at courtside when their son came out to face Jimmy Connors. Seven hours later, after three rain delays and a three-hour match, Drew Gitlin felt the moment still.

"My first experience with that is when I played Guillermo Vilas at the Open," Gitlin said. "People were screaming, 'Vilas, viva Vilas!' and someone was yelling out, 'Gitlin!' That sounded so funny to me. 'Gitlin, Gitlin!' I go home, and I still have to take out the garbage. I'm common clay . . .

"It makes your skin crawl. Jimmy Connors walks on the court, and they give him applause. But little Drew Gitlin walks on the court and they just roar. I mean, that's the way I heard it. I mean, maybe I was dreaming out there, but I heard a bigger clap for me, so I don't care what anyone says. That just made my day."

And when Gitlin walked off behind Connors at the end, with the customers standing to applaud, the master raised a hand to the crowd--and the kid who still takes out the garbage pointed a finger at his parents and smiled proudly. They're his best friends, Gitlin said of his parents, and when he pointed to them he was saying, "You were here today, I was here, and, hey, let's don't forget this."