Should the $200,000 D.C. National Bank Classic, which begins today at noon, give guarantee money to lure top players?

One player, Vincent Van Patten, thinks so. Harold Solomon, former president of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), finds the practice abhorrent, even though he said yesterday he knows of at least 20 players who take guarantee money.

"I think this tournament should give guarantee money," said Van Patten, who plays in the feature match tonight at 7 against Thierry Tulasne. The tournament runs through July 25 at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium at 16th and Kennedy Sts. NW.

"The complaint most players have about guarantees is that only the top two or three are getting it and that, instead, it should be spread around," said Van Patten. "However, it won't be. I think it's fair that the top guys get it because they deserve it. They deserve the extra money because they are the ones drawing people. It's like doing publicity for a company.

"Also, guarantee money doesn't affect the way they play. It's just a bonus," said Van Patten, who is ranked 65th in the world.

Solomon vehemently disagrees, and so, too, does the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, which recently suspended fourth-ranked Guillermo Vilas for allegedly accepting $100,000 to appear in a tournament in Rotterdam. Vilas is appealing that decision.

"I think it (guarantees) is the worst thing possible for the game," said Solomon, who is playing here. "It's immoral. There are rules against it. It's done under the table. The public thinks that players are going out there for the money stated--like here, it's for $200,000.

"But it's not true. Some players are playing for twice or three times what the top prize is. It's not fair."

Solomon said smaller tournaments can't compete against those with large corporate sponsors who can afford to give guarantee money.

The D.C. National Bank tournament has attracted only one top-10 player (No. 1 seed Jose-Luis Clerc, ranked 10th in the world) this year, but still will have a number of highly regarded clay-court players. John Harris, the tournament cochairman, says the tournament does not give appearance money.

Players on the Grand Prix circuit must play a minimum of 10 tournaments a year. Critics say if guarantee money is given under the table, it limits the chance for a tournament like the D.C. Classic to bring in a Jimmy Connors or an Ivan Lendl, although each has played here. Lendl, the defending champion, is not entered this year.

"The top players make $4-6 million dollars a year," said Solomon. "They make a lot from exhibitions and endorsements. They don't need to take guarantee money to enter a tournament because they're going to get into those exhibitions, anyway.

"It's a bad situation for tournament directors, who still have to put up $200,000 to $300,000 to get the top players. They're cutting their own throats with the guarantees."

Solomon said at least 20 players take guarantees, but refused to say which ones because "I don't want to end up in court and try to prove it."

Solomon said his agent, Peter Johnson, has been offered guarantee money, but Solomon has refused to take it. "It's happened at least 15 times this year. The money is offered through my agent. I have never taken it. I haven't had as many offers lately because I have dropped in the rankings.

"But, it's getting worse all the time, especially in the last four to five years. The first time I can remember it being offered to me is 1979 or 1980," he added.

Solomon does not have a remedy. "The money is offered on a cash basis and the money probably goes into Switzerland, so you can't find the money. The Council thinks they've caught Vilas. We've been trying for a year to a year and a half to find someone.

"I understand that a player is a commodity and has to go out and make a living. But they make so much, anyway. It's not like they don't get any money."

Solomon continued: "We have to look out for the game. We don't want to sell it down the tubes."