The Sovran Bank Classic's trademarks, debilitating heat and humidity, were absent yesterday as play began at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park. Also missing were the marquee players headlining perhaps the best field in the tournament's 22-year history, some of whom will play their first matches today.

But a potentially drab opening day was enlivened by the intriguing return of Eliot Teltscher, one-time No. 6 player in the world who beat Jeff Tarango, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in his first match on the pro tour in two years. Afterward, he promoted the benefits of taekwondo and weight training he discovered while on sabbatical from the tennis court, then demanded a soft drink from his frequent hitting partner as payment in their standing bet.

"It was one match, one day," said Teltscher, a 31-year-old with graying hair and a California tan. Today "is a new day, and we'll have to see what happens. I have no idea how I'll play against {his second-round opponent, second-seeded Brad} Gilbert. I had no idea how I'd play {yesterday}. . . . But for now, it feels good."

Dan Goldie, who grew up in McLean but moved recently to Redwood City, Calif., had little trouble dispatching West German Patrick Kuhnen, 6-2, 6-2. It has been a frustrating year for Goldie, who suffered a stress fracture of the tibia in his left leg 11 months ago and said he is only 90 percent recovered. His hometown event hasn't been kind to him either; he hasn't been past the second round since 1984, when he reached the quarterfinals as a wild card.

But he was sharp yesterday. "I played really well," Goldie said. "I love to come back and play here, and I think there's less pressure on me now that I've moved away."

None of the tournament's 16 seeds played today; the top eight have byes into the second round. In one afternoon match, Paul Chamberlin defeated David Pate, 6-4, 6-4. Chamberlin, a quarterfinalist here last year, will face John McEnroe tonight and has the kind of powerful serve-and-volley game that could give the No. 3 seed problems.

"I'll just try to take it to him," said Chamberlin, ranked 104th and a loser to McEnroe in their only previous meeting. "You try to be as prepared as you can, then let it hang loose."

Australian Mark Woodforde defeated Paul Annacone, 6-7 (8-10), 6-3, 6-2, and will face No. 6 Jim Grabb. Ramesh Krishnan of India beat New Zealander Kelly Evernden, 6-3, 6-1, and opposes fourth seed and defending champion Tim Mayotte today.

Wild card Jared Palmer defeated Swede Thomas Hogstedt, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-4, while another wild card, NCAA singles champion Steve Bryan -- in his pro debut -- topped Kelly Jones, 6-3, 6-3. Bryan decided to skip his final two years of eligibility after leading Texas to the Southwest Conference title and compiling an 88-19 collegiate singles record. Venezuelan Nicolas Pereira won over John Ross, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2; Robbie Weiss stopped Peter Lundgren, 6-0, 6-2.

But the day's leading storyline was Teltscher, a top-10 player from 1980 to '84 and a four-time U.S. Davis Cup team member. He walked away from tennis in 1988, partly because of arm and shoulder problems that still flare up and partly because he'd had enough of the game.

He didn't pick up a racket for six months, he said, keeping busy with investments and dabbling in real estate. He took up the martial arts, played basketball and eventually some tennis, ran regularly and lifted weights. Several months ago, he realized he was in the best shape of his life and might want to explore the comeback some friends had been urging.

"I've been playing tennis since I was 10," he said. "When I walked away, it was because I'd had enough. I didn't think I had quit too early. . . . {But} two or three months ago, I figured I'd give it a try."

Teltscher said he has no long-term blueprint for his return. He contacted tournament directors across the country, but most were reluctant to give him a wild-card slot. But Sovran tournament director Josh Ripple was the exception.

Tarango, 21 and a former three-time all-American at Stanford who's ranked 115th, entered their match forewarned: The two have known each other since Tarango was 12, have the same coach and often hit together when they're at home -- Teltscher at Palos Verdes, Calif., and Tarango at nearby Manhattan Beach.

"I talked to my coach {Robert Lansdorp on Sunday} night, so I knew to expect what I got," Tarango said. "I knew he was training, knew he was in great shape. . . . Eliot was a great player, and he can do whatever he wants. I'm excited for him. It's just too bad we had to play each other."

Their informal matchups often are for stakes -- a post-match drink, usually -- and Teltscher claimed Tarango already owed him one Coke coming in. "Now it's two," he said.

The difference yesterday, Tarango said, was that the setting of a real tournament threw some caution into their usual go-for-broke shot selection. "It was weird to play him," he said. "Usually we just hit out, and {yesterday} we had to hold back sometimes. . . . But it wasn't too different. Eliot will bite your hand off for a dollar. He'll try hard whenever there's something at stake."

Teltscher began the match with a service winner and an ace. Tarango tried to move him around with drop shots and lobs, but Teltscher covered the court well and kept mistakes to a minimum.

Tarango wasted a break point in the seventh game by pushing a drop volley wide at 30-40, and the first set remained on serve until the 10th game. Tarango, serving at 4-5, sprayed ground strokes wide and long, and Teltscher gained two set points at 15-40.

He blew the first with a mis-hit forehand that fell wide, but Tarango's backhand struck the netcord and refused to sneak over.

Teltscher threatened to bring the match to a quick close in the second set, breaking in the second game for a 2-0 lead when Tarango netted a forehand approach. But Tarango used a backhand pass to gain a break point. He cashed in this time for 1-2, then held serve and broke Teltscher for a 3-2 advantage.

It remained on serve for the remainder of the set, which Tarango closed out with an ace down the middle. Tarango had the advantage of youth, but the day's 80-degree temperatures were forgiving and Teltscher probably was better conditioned. "I didn't think I had the advantage going into a third set," Tarango said. "If anything, he did."

Teltscher seized the advantage in the eighth game, using a rifle forehand return on break point for a 5-3 lead. He finished the match with little anxiety, nailing a backhand volley for 40-15 and watching a Tarango forehand sail wide for his first tour win since beating Larry Scott (now a member of the ATP board of directors) in May 1988.

"I don't know where I'm at," said Teltscher. "I don't know if I'm as good as Brad Gilbert. . . . Two years ago, I knew -- he was better than me. Now I'm just taking it day to day."

A tennis clinic for Special Olympics athletes will be conducted this morning at 10 at clay courts 16 and 17 of FitzGerald Tennis Center, at 16th and Kennedy streets NW. Players participating in the Sovran Bank Classic will assist in the clinic, sponsored by Volvo Tennis.

RESULTS

First-Round Singles

Jared Palmer, Saddlebrook, Fla., def. Thomas Hogstedt, Sweden, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-4; Ramesh Krishnan, India, def. Kelly Evernden, New Zealand, 6-3, 6-1; Robbie Weiss, Wheeling, Ill. def. Peter Lundgren, Sweden, 6-0, 6-2; Steve Bryan, Katy, Tex., def. Kelly Jones, San Diego, 6-3, 6-3; Paul Chamberlin, Del Mar, Calif., def. David Pate, Las Vegas, 6-4, 6-4; Nicolas Pereira, Venezuela, def. John Ross, Gainesville, Fla., 7-6 (7-4), 6-2; Eliot Teltscher, Palos Verdes, Calif., def. Jeff Tarango, Manhattan Beach, Calif., 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Dan Goldie, Redwood City, Calif., def. Patrick Kuhnen, West Germany, 6-2, 6-2; Mark Woodforde, Australia, def. Paul Annacone, East Hampton, N.Y., 6-7 (8-10), 6-3, 6-2.

First-Round Doubles

Kent Kinnear-Brad Pearce def. Jonathon Canter-Bruce Derlin, 6-4, 6-2; Neil Broad-Gary Muller def. Bret Garnett-Sven Salumaa, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3); Jim Grabb-Richey Reneberg def. Michael Chang-Carl Chang, 6-4, 6-2.