LONDON, JUNE 27 -- They turned two Americans loose on Centre Court today to start play on the first Saturday of Wimbledon. Once they had the court, Tim Mayotte and Tim Wilkison decided they didn't want to give it up.

But no one objected. By the time they shook hands 3 hours 45 minutes after they began, each had won the English crowd in his own way. Mayotte, the 10th seed, needed all of his considerable skills to hold off Wilkison, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 6-4.

"We were out there forever," Mayotte said. "After a while it seemed like we were camping out. I'm just glad to be alive and still in the tournament."

And with Sunday a day of rest at Wimbledon, he'll have time to regroup for his next opponent, the often formidable Mikael Pernfors on Monday.

Twenty-four hours after Boris Becker was shockingly taken out of the tournament, the repercussions were still reverberating around the grounds. All the top men said that the two-time champion's absence opens up the field and some, like Mayotte, admitted they had to keep from looking ahead. Two male seeds followed Becker in defeat today.

Joakim Nystrom (No. 13) lost to Jacob Hlasek, but given his record on grass and that Hlasek is ranked only 16 places lower than he is, it barely qualified as an upset.

The other loss by a seed did, hugely. In its own way, the loss by No. 12 Brad Gilbert to Alexander Volkov was almost as shocking as was Becker's to Peter Doohan. Volkov, a 20-year-old Soviet, had never won a Grand Prix match before this tournament. Ranked No. 503 on the men's computer, Volkov kept Gilbert off balance all day with his left-handed serve: 7-6 (7-4), 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Volkov got into the main draw through qualifying and his last five matches have been against Americans. "Before I played {Bill} Scanlon in the second round I had never played anyone ranked so high {58}," Volkov said. "I didn't think I could play with him. But then I started playing and I thought, 'He plays just like me.' I was surprised {and won, 7-6, 7-6, 6-2}. I thought today, maybe I had a chance."

He had a chance and he took advantage of it, much to Gilbert's annoyance. "I think he expected easy match against me," Volkov said.

Other seeds were luckier. Stefan Edberg (No. 4), who has lost his serve once in three rounds, won in straight sets again, this time over Matt Anger. Andres Gomez (No. 8) had some trouble with qualifier Ken Flach, but got a service break when the American was serving for the fourth set and went on to win, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Henri Leconte (No. 9) beat the other half of Israel's Davis Cup team, Gilad Bloom, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, a day after beating the first half, Amos Mansdorf. Pat Cash (No. 11) beat his pal and Australian countryman Paul McNamee, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, in a second-round match.

And No. 2 seed Ivan Lendl came through his daily struggle, beating qualifier Richey Reneberg, 6-4, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 7-6 (7-0). "Anybody who has never won a set or a game in tennis, come on out and play me," Lendl joked. "You're guaranteed to win at least a set."

The only women's seed to lose today was No. 13 Barbara Potter, wiped out by Mary Joe Fernandez, 6-0, 6-1. Steffi Graf, who looks as if she were born to play on grass, took 50 minutes to oust Laura Gildemeister, 6-2, 6-1. She has lost six games in six sets. She was joined in the fourth round by Helena Sukova (No. 4), Gabriela Sabatini (No. 6), Raffaella Reggi (No. 15) and Sylvia Hanika (No. 16). Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, playing a round behind, struggled for a set, but got past Louise Field, 7-6 (8-6), 6-0.

The story of the day on the women's side also involved a Soviet. Natalia Zvereva, 16, the French junior champion, reached the round of 16 with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over American Ann Henricksson.

Zvereva, tall and slender, whips the ball around the court and has a remarkable serve for one so young. Today, she had Henricksson off balance from the start, racing to a 4-1 lead. She next faces Sabatini in an attention-getting match.

Today, though, it was Mayotte and Wilkison who had Centre Court and center stage. Wilkison became something of a folk hero during the U.S. Open last year, upsetting Yannick Noah in the second round and becoming the only American to reach the quarterfinals. He won crowds over with his dashing, sprawling style, his red-and-white baseball cap and his "aw shucks" style. He came in with the nickname "Dr. Dirt" and went out with a new one: "Rambo."

"That was fun," Wilkison said today. "I like notoriety. But you have to earn it. If I had beaten Tim, I would have gotten some. But I didn't, so that's my fault."

His and his opponent's. Mayotte is the antithesis of Wilkison on the court -- methodical, restrained, almost always controlled. Even the quiet English crowd grew involved with Wilkison as he shucked and jived around the court.

"I've learned to just worry about my own game," Mayotte said. "It really doesn't bother me. That's the way Tim plays. I knew he would thrive in this atmosphere, so I expected a tough match."

Mayotte made it look easy early, racing through the first set and to a quick break in the second. But Wilkison came back, breaking back to 4-all and breaking again for the second set. Mayotte hurt himself, double faulting after Wilkison had reached set point with a lunging forehand down the line.

"I think Tim felt a lot of pressure playing me because he knew I could give him a tough match," Wilkison said. "It was such an up-and-down match all day it was exhausting out there. I didn't think it would ever end."

He did think he might win, though. Mayotte jumped ahead again in the third set, but Wilkison got even at 4-all. By this time, the crowd had warmed to him. Every time he shook a fist -- which was often -- the fans roared.

Wilkison did a lot of fist-shaking in the tie breaker. He played it about as well as one can play starting with a great scoop backhand volley and ending with two big serves. Again, Mayotte's nerves showed as he double faulted twice.

But Mayotte didn't crack. He broke Wilkison to start the fourth set after a rare show of emotion. When he netted a forehand return to let Wilkison reach 30-all, he screamed in frustration, "Get a point on his second serve!" A moment later he did, ripping a forehand. Wilkison double faulted for the break and Mayotte raced through the set.

"When I let him break me like that to start the fourth, it wasn't too good," Wilkison said. "Then when he broke me again early in the fifth, I thought he might run away with it. But I got back in it."

Yes, after one of Centre Court's more memorable moments in recent history. Serving to get back even at 2-3, Wilkison hit a lunging forehand winner that made the game score 30-all. As he lunged, Wilkison's zipper split open.

Never missing a beat, Wilkison jogged over to his seat, pulled a second pair of shorts out of his equipment bag and raced under the stands to change. He was back in a moment, waving the split pair to the fans, who were beside themselves with laughter. Even Mayotte had a hearty laugh.

"You know you're out there at a moment like that and the pressure is extroardinary," Mayotte said. "But really, moments like that you cherish because they're so memorable. Right then, I was standing there thinking, 'It's really fun being out here and a part of this right now.' "

Wilkison started bringing a second pair of shorts to the court with him last year in Cincinnati in the midst of a heat wave. "Now I bring them even when it isn't hot," he said. "You never know when you're going to need them."

Wilkison, new shorts and all, saved that game and they moved to 5-4 on serve. "I was just hoping I could sneak a break in somewhere and get it over," Mayotte said.

He got the break, with help from Wilkison. At 15-all, Wilkison double faulted. At 30-all, Mayotte passed him with a backhand. Match point. Wilkison missed his first serve. "I wanted to serve to his forehand because I thought I would surprise him," Wilkison said. "I guess I tried to do too much with the ball."

The serve was an inch wide. The second serve tracked the tape and bounded out of the service court and, suddenly, it was over.

Not a perfect ending, but for one day at least, Centre Court had belonged to America. And no one was complaining.

Wimbledon Notes:

Graf has come a long way since she last played Wimbledon in 1985. Then she was 16, and went almost unnoticed. Now, as the No. 2 seed and very capable of winning it all, she has been asked by the West German version of Penthouse to do a photo layout. The offer: $400,000.

"I couldn't believe it when they asked me to do it," Graf said today, blushing. "I was laughing, really laughing when I heard about it. I don't know how somebody would get the idea that I would even think about it. It's strange." . . .

Kevin Curren was fined $500 for calling umpire Paulo Perreira an "idiot" during his Friday loss to Johan Kriek . . .

Success has changed Australia's Doohan. After beating Becker on Friday, Doohan celebrated by moving out of his $17-a-night YMCA room into a hotel. He now is assured of at least $7,125 in winnings . . .

Becker also moved out today, leaving his downtown hotel by a back entrance and changing cars three times on the way to Heathrow airport for a flight to Frankfurt.