The clay-court specialists of Europe and South America brought their scraping, sliding, base-line game to Washington yesterday as first-round play began in the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic at Rock Creek Tennis Stadium.

Of the 28 men who played today, all but six -- five Americans and one South African -- are from Europe or South America.

"It depends upon where you learn to play the game," said ninth-seeded Victor Pecci of Paraguay, who advanced by defeating Alejandro Ganzabal of Argentina, 6-4, 6-0.

"Australians and Americans learn to play on fast courts. I think the intelligent ones are the Europeans, who play on both surfaces," Pecci said. "The Americans don't like clay at all, and the South Americans don't like fast courts."

In one of only two matches between North Americans, Dan Goldie of McLean met Jimmy Brown in a battle of two-handed backhands last night on the stadium court.

Goldie, at 108th the highest-ranked amateur in the world, made it to the quarterfinals here last year by upsetting Brian Gottfried and top-seeded Jimmy Arias after battling through qualifying rounds to earn a spot in the draw.

But last night, he was in trouble. He lost the first set, 6-3, with Brown breaking his serve for the final game. He broke Brown in the second game of the second set, but Brown broke right back.

The set went to 4-4, but with the score at 15-15 and Goldie serving, the light rain that had been falling for a few minutes began to thicken. Goldie, sensing a fortuitous act of nature, walked over to umpire Rich Kaufman to persuade him to suspend play.

Kaufman listened, and motioned to Brown, who threw his arms up into the rain and argued for several minutes before leaving the court. About 20 minutes later, when it looked as if the rain had subsided, Brown walked onto the empty court with towels over his head and shoulders and sat tapping his feet, waiting for play to resume. At 9:16, with rain again falling heavily, officials decided the quick-dry courts would not be ready for play and postponed all evening matches until today.

Goldie and Brown will continue play as the second match on the stadium court this afternoon.

Jimmy Connors, who has had success on all surfaces, had asked to play this afternoon instead of Wednesday, when other second-round play is scheduled. But the rain seems to have prevented that. Top-seeded Connors, who along with the other top eight seeded players received a first-round bye, will play the winner of a first-round match between Hans Gildemeister and qualifier Stefan Erikson, which was among the matches postponed until today.

Pecci's name probably is familiar to Washington fans. In 1979, he was the runner-up in the Grand Prix tournament here, losing to Guillermo Vilas in a typically sweltering Washington match in which he suffered such severe leg and stomach cramps that he had to lie down on the court for 15 minutes.

But names of other seeded players might be less familiar. Hans Schwaier, Francesco Cancellotti and No. 12 Jose Higueras -- who was upset today, 6-2, 6-2, by Jakob Hlasek -- are less well-known, largely because clay-court specialists seldom are ranked highly in the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings.

Only about 35 percent of the tournaments -- and the prize money -- are on clay, and 65 percent are on fast courts, Pecci said. "For a clay-court specialist, it's difficult to be (ranked) in the top 10," he said. "There are only six or seven tournaments on clay, and if you don't do well on one, you're out."

One reason it is so difficult to succeed on both clay and fast courts is that the surfaces require different approaches.

"I run differently on clay than on cement," Pecci said. "On clay, before you hit the ball, you go like this," he said, skidding his foot across the ground. "On fast surfaces, you have to take another step."

Pecci also pointed out the differences in strokes, saying that on the slower clay you must take time to set up, wind up and follow through to add power to the stroke. The result are shots like 13th-seeded Schwaier's backhand, which nearly twists him completely around.

On faster surfaces, players must punch their returns. The ball comes shooting up from the court; there's no time to wind up and no need to add power.

Hlasek, 20, from Switzerland, upset Higueras yesterday because he made the adjustment to clay.

Hlasek, who says he plays best on fast indoor courts, prepared well for this match, talking to friends about how to attack Higueras.

The answer was not to attack.

"I tried to play everything back," he said. "He (Higueras) just played left, right. He doesn't really have a winning shot. I always come in a little more (than he did), but on clay you have to stay back."

There's not much difference in the players' rankings -- Higueras is 41st, Hlasek is 55th. But on clay, Higueras' specialty, the gap is wider.

"I think he's one of the best clay-court players," Hlasek said. "I beat a lot of players ranked better than him, but he's still a specialist on clay and this is a great win for me."

The day's best match might have been 10th-seeded Cancellotti's 7-5, 0-6, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Jose Lopez-Maeso.

Lopez-Maeso took a 5-3 lead in the final set after breaking Cancelloti in the eighth game. Cancelloti broke back and held to make it 5-5, but at 5-6, he was serving to save the match.

First serve: ace. Second serve: ace. He lost a point when Lopez-Maeso lobbed a return over his head, but then came back with still another ace and a service winner to take the game.

"It was a little bit windy," Cancellotti said. "I started to think, 'Here's the moment to make a big serve.' The wind was against me, but I tried to make an ace, and I did."

The tie breaker went to 3-all, but Cancellotti, who had stuck to the base line until the last game, played serve-and-volley to win the next four points and take the match.

Hans Schwaier, the world's 47th-ranked player, beat Claudio Panatta, 7-5, 6-1. "It was too hot," said Panatta, who started off wearing a Rambo-style headband, a white cloth tied in back of the head. "It was too hot for me, but not for him."

With the exception of a minor cast change, the production of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," currently at the National Theatre through Aug. 4, is the same one that played here six months ago. Now as then, it is a gentle, observant comedy about growing up poor and Jewish during the Depression. Simon provides the usual quotient of laughs we have come to expect of him, but in addition the play is infused with welcome warmth and wisdom. Most playwrights today look back in anger; Simon remembers the three-ring circus that was his childhood with unabashed affection.

The National is certainly becoming his theatrical home away from home. In between the two engagements of "Brighton Beach," it hosted the all-female version of "The Odd Couple" and scheduled for next year is "Biloxi Blues," which takes up where "Brighton Beach" leaves off. That is not so much a failure of imagination on the National's part as it is sheer economic necessity. Simon is one of the few people keeping the commercial Broadway theater alive these days. If you want a touring play, chances are it's going to be one of his.

In "Brighton Beach," he even puts himself on the stage in the form of 15-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome, an appealingly goofy adolescent who can't decide whether he wants to become a writer or a professional athlete. Eugene serves as the play's narrator -- when he's not badgering his older brother with questions about girls, running errands to the corner store for his mother or generally serving as the family scapegoat. Sex may mystify him, but he's already a shrewd observer of the comic potential in a household struggling to keep principles together and cabbage and liver on the table.

Although Simon has drawn on his life before (in the frivolous "Come Blow Your Horn" and the self-pitying "Chapter Two"), "Brighton Beach" transcends autobiography to present a kind of idealized view of the proud immigrant family, determined to survive a sea of troubles. There's not enough money coming in. Jack, the father, has just lost one of his two jobs and is headed for a heart attack, and Stanley, the older son, will gamble away his $17 paycheck in a poker game. It's been 3 1/2 years since widowed Aunt Blanche and her two daughters moved in, and they're not about to leave. Overseas, Hitler is making threatening noises and, futhermore, Eugene needs new sneakers.

Invariably, Simon's characters get on one another's nerves, but they also know they can count on one another in the pinch. Decency is their middle name. In the yelling and screaming, they hardly ever say they love one another. Indeed, Kate, the fretful mother, is eternally barking at Eugene, ordering him away from the cookie jar or commanding him to make less noise at play. ("I'm not playing. I'm writing," he replies at one point. "Well, do it quietly," she counters, not one to be stopped by logic.) But Simon makes it clear that the squabbling stems from caring, and that under this roof love abounds.

Patrick Dempsey, as Eugene, continues to be the standout in the cast. The role, of course, is a pip, but the actor capitalizes on all its comic assets. Life occasionally strikes Eugene dumb, but never for long; puberty's amazements perk him right up again. Dempsey -- with his big ears, scratchy voice and slouched body -- is a gawky charmer.

Strong, too, are Lisa Waltz, as Eugene's pretty cousin, who is convinced she could become a Broadway star if only her mother would give her permission; Brian Drillinger, as Eugene's older brother and mentor; and Richard Greene, as the put-upon patriarch. I must admit I liked Lynn Milgrim's mother less this time, however. Her thin-lipped sternnness, combined with her gutteral accent and the persistent whine in her delivery, suggests that the actress is doing an impression of the late Peter Lorre.

It is one of the peculiarities of the American theater that many of our playwrights have produced their best works by writing about their families -- whether it's O'Neill ("Long Day's Journey Into Night"), Williams ("The Glass Menagerie"), Inge ("Dark at the Top of the Stairs") or even Anderson ("I Never Sang for My Father"). "Brighton Beach Memoirs" puts Simon in that group, too. I'm not sure why this should be the case, but I am willing to accept Eugene's explanation. "You see why I want to write all this down," he says to the audience, after one explosion of parental temperament. "In case I grow up all twisted and warped, I want the world to know why." Brighton Beach Memoirs, by Neil Simon. Directed by Gene Saks; scenery, David Mitchell; costumes, Patricia Zipprodt; lighting, Tharon Musser. With Romy Berk, Patrick Dempsey, Brian Drillinger, Richard Greene, Lynn Milgrim, Rocky Parker, Lisa Waltz. At the National Theatre through Aug. 4.