LONDON, JUNE 29 -- Nine months ago, Paul Annacone was about to become a big star on the men's tennis tour. He was ranked in the top 20, he had just been named to the U.S. Davis Cup team for the first time and, in the opening round of the U.S. Open, he beat John McEnroe.

Two days after the McEnroe match, Annacone blew a two-set lead against Aaron Krickstein and was gone from the Open. Since then, his ranking has dropped steadily, his draws have been brutal and he's lost one tough match after another.

Today, it happened again. He led Guy Forget, two sets to one, in the third round of Wimbledon, one set from a round-of-16 match against Pat Cash.

In the fifth set, he had a break point at 4-all and cracked the net tape with a backhand return. A couple of moments later, Forget whipped a forehand past him on match point and Annacone was gone, losing, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"I finally got a pretty good draw, I had a great chance and I didn't get it done," Annacone said a few minutes later. "In the last two sets, I couldn't even get his second serve back into play consistently. He was serving into my body and I couldn't do anything with it. I've been playing tennis on tour for four years and since I was 10 years old and I couldn't adjust. There's no excuse for that."

Annacone is a classic example of the 1980s tennis nonstar. He is a good player, but not a great one. The first time he came to Wimbledon, in 1984, he reached the quarterfinals. He has not been that far in a Grand Slam tournament since.

He is a serve-and-volley player, although, having grown up on clay, he refuses to give in to the notion that he must be a one-dimensional player. He still plays in the French Open every year.

He has all the makings of a real star. At times, he can be brilliant. At other times, his game disappears.

"For two rounds, I did everything I wanted to here," he said. "My draw wasn't easy, playing {Milan} Srjeber, who has beaten guys like Becker and Connors, in the first round, and then Wally Masur, who made the Australian semifinals, in the second. But it wasn't like last year when I got {Stefan} Edberg in the second round.

"Now I'm playing Forget for a chance to play Cash. He's a good player, but I can beat him. I woke up this morning and it was strange; I didn't feel right. The whole match, I wasn't quite there. I don't know why. It's the third round at Wimbledon; you shouldn't have any motivational problems.

"But I never really felt into the match, even when I was up, 2-1, in sets. When he had to, he picked up his game and I didn't. That's why he won."

Forget is a reed-thin French left-hander who first made his mark two years ago when he knocked off Kevin Curren in the first round of the U.S. Open, when Curren was the fifth seed and a Wimbledon finalist. Forget is ranked 52nd in the world, four places below Annacone, and upset his doubles partner, Yannick Noah, in the second round.

"He's a good player, but it's the kind of match I should be able to win," Annacone said.

"I'd like to get to the semis of a Grand Slam and have the chance to see how I would handle it. When Becker lost, I started daydreaming a little. The top half was open some and I had my chance."

He had his best chance at 4-all, 30-40 in the fifth set today. Forget came up with an excellent serve. Annacone stretched, hit a backhand, thought it might end up at Forget's feet and watched it hit the net tape.

"I did what I wanted to do," he said. "The guy hit a great serve, I hit an almost great return. He would have had to half-volley it and who knows? If he misses and if I play a little better . . . .

"If, if, if," he said. "If, if, if. If, maybe, might, might have. Famous last words."