The big names and power games took center stage yesterday at the Sovran Bank Classic. The parade of celebrity players and overwhelming, serve-and-volley tennis included victories by John McEnroe, Brad Gilbert and Tim Mayotte, plus upsets of three seeds.

Ten of the tournament's 16 seeded players were in action at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park. The one everyone wanted most to see, third-seeded McEnroe, wasn't particularly sharp but did what he needed to defeat Paul Chamberlin, 6-2, 6-3, and advance to the third round. Then he pronounced himself encouraged about his latest rededication to the game.

"Considering it was my first match, I thought I played pretty well," said McEnroe, who's ranked 12th in the world and is playing in his third tournament since February. "Right now, I just need to play matches. . . . Each match I play is a bonus."

Mayotte, the defending champion and fourth seed, was the first of the tournament's headliners on display with an impressive second-round victory over Ramesh Krishnan in the afternoon.

Mayotte, also on a quest to carve a new niche for himself in the game's power structure, pummeled Krishnan, 6-2, 6-1. He could only hope afterward the easy win will serve as a springboard to the resurgence he is trying to craft in a year of disappointments.

"I didn't expect it to be that easy," Mayotte said. "I was ready to go out there and have a long battle."

Second-seeded Brad Gilbert ended a chapter in another comeback attempt, the take-it-as-it-comes return of Eliot Teltscher, who was playing his first tournament since retiring two years ago. Gilbert controlled the play throughout, but had some anxious moments when he lost his serve at 5-4 in the second set. He broke Teltscher in the 11th game, though, and closed out a 6-1, 7-5 victory.

No. 6 Jim Grabb beat hard-hitting Australian Mark Woodforde, 6-2, 6-2, but three seeded players lost first-round matchups during the afternoon session: No. 9 Christo Van Rensburg to Darren Cahill, No. 11 Mark Kratzmann to Simon Youl and No. 12 Milan Srejber to Grant Connell.

Cahill, an Australian ranked 69th in the world, rallied from a 3-0 first-set deficit to win 12 of the final 13 games for a 6-4, 6-0 win over Van Rensburg, who's No. 49. He's 3-1 against Van Rensburg as a pro, with all three victories on hard courts.

"This wasn't a major upset," Cahill said. "The depth of the men's tour now is such that there are no easy matches."

Kratzmann and Youl are fellow Australians and longtime rivals, having played dozens of times as juniors and in satellite tournaments. They never had faced one another on the Grand Prix circuit before yesterday, however, and Kratzmann seemed likely to capture their initial meeting after a year in which he has risen from 115 to 50 in the rankings while Youl, ranked No. 123, has struggled with his health and outlook.

"I would've thought I'd have beaten him if I had been playing well," Kratzmann said. He didn't, though, as inconsistency on his serve and the failure to capitalize on Youl's second-set lapses sent him to a 6-3, 6-4 defeat.

Srejber, a 6-foot-8 powerhouse from Czechoslovakia, has perhaps the fastest serve of any player at this tournament. But Connell, a doubles specialist, managed to block most of the 120 plus mph missiles into play, then had his way from there for a 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) decision.

In another afternoon match, 10th-seeded Jakob Hlasek beat West German Alexander Mronz, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to the second round. Hlasek, a potential third-round opponent for eighth-seeded Alexander Volkov and possible quarterfinal foe of Gilbert, is a proven hard-court player. He reached No. 7 in the world last year, and he beat Ivan Lendl, Mayotte and Andre Agassi in succession at the 1988 Nabisco Masters.

Todd Witsken, seeded 14th, dispatched MaliVai Washington, a second-year pro who has improved steadily since passing up his final two years at the University of Michigan, where he was the nation's top-ranked collegiate player in 1988. Witsken pulled away from a 5-5 first-set tie for a 7-5, 6-2 win.

Brad Pearce beat Bryan Shelton, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Shelton, who gave Lendl a four-set scare at Wimbledon, self-destructed after blowing an easy volley into an open court at 40-all with the third set on serve at 2-2; he pushed the shot wide, was broken by Pearce on the next point and didn't win another game. Pearce, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist, will play top-seeded Agassi in the third round.

In other first-round matches, 16th-seeded Andrew Sznajder beat qualifier Ken Flach, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4; No. 13 Gary Muller ousted Sandon Stolle, 6-3, 6-3; 15th-seeded Gilad Bloom defeated Luis Herrera, 6-4, 6-3; Derrick Rostagno, McEnroe's first-round conquerer at Wimbledon, outlasted Martin Wostenholme, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1.

Miguel Nido defeated Martin Laurendeau, 6-4, 6-3; Jason Stoltenberg topped Mark Kaplan, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0; qualifier Jimmy Brown won over Joey Rive, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4; Michael Stich defeated Grant Stafford, 7-6 (7-2), 6-0; and in a matchup of qualifiers, Marcos Ondruska beat Patrick Baur, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0.

Most of the attention, though, focused on the revitalization attempts of McEnroe and Mayotte. McEnroe's is the more celebrated, and he added fuel yesterday by insisting he didn't see any reason he can't return to -- or at least approach -- his former place atop the tennis world.

He has returned to his old coach, Tony Palafox, and he's increased his off-court training time that had slipped to almost nil before Wimbledon. He said he's also making adjustments to a mental approach that had him losing matches "before I even went out on the court."

He can't play the overpowering net game he once displayed, but his almost magical touch still surfaces at times. Chamberlin said he could tell he wasn't playing the McEnroe of old, but such brilliance wasn't required since Chamberlin's performance was sloppy.

McEnroe was irritated with several line calls, including one that gave Chamberlin a point he immediately gave back. "I thought it was the fair thing to do," he said. "I can't say I've ever done that before, and I can't say I'd ever do it again."

McEnroe said he's itching for a rematch with Rostagno, which could come about in the third round if Rostagno can beat Muller. But McEnroe wasn't particularly optimistic about his chances to win the tournament, saying: "I don't really expect to win here, but I would not discount it. I would say it's a remote possibility."

Mayotte also has had trying times, since he beat Brad Gilbert to win this tournament last year, his only championship of 1989 after winning four titles in '88.

He was ranked consistently in the top 10 for nearly four years, ending '89 at No. 13. But Mayotte rarely has made an impact at Grand Slam events, carrying uneasily the burden of bordering but not cracking the world's elite. And his situation has worsened of late.

His right knee, a chronic problem, kept him sidelined for three months earlier this year. With his 30th birthday nearing, Mayotte questioned his commitment to the game. He switched coaches and promises to fine-tune his on-court style in the coming months.

This is Mayotte's surface, and he was at his best in a study of contrasts against Krishnan, a 29-year-old from India who refuses to wilt even when on-court temperatures here approach 100 degrees. Krishnan rarely strikes the ball with much authority, but he chases everything down.

Mayotte was too much yesterday, however, and he was encouraged by the effort. "I feel pretty good," he said. "When you get some fresh blood into you, it's invigorating." RESULTS First-Round Singles

Todd Witsken, Carmel, Ind., def. MaliVai Washington, Swartz Creek, Mich., 7-5, 6-2; Brad Pearce, Provo, Utah, def. Bryan Shelton, Huntsville, Ala., 6-4, 3-6, 6-2; Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland, def. Alexander Mronz, West Germany, 6-4, 7-5; Darren Cahill, Australia, def. Christo Van Rensberg, Indian Wells, Calif., 6-4, 6-0; Andrew Sznajder, Canada, def. Ken Flach, St. Louis, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4; Miguel Nido, Largo, Fla., def. Martin Laurendeau, Canada, 6-4, 6-3; Simon Youl, Australia, def. Mark Kratzmann, Australia, 6-3, 6-4; Grant Connell, Canada, def. Milan Srejber, Czechoslovakia, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7); Jimmy Brown, Largo, Fla., def. Joey Rive, West Palm Beach, Fla., 7-6 (9-7), 6-4; Jason Stoltenberg, Australia, def. Mark Kaplan, South Africa, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0; Michael Stich, West Germany, def. Grant Stafford, South Africa, 7-6 (7-2), 6-0; Marcos Ondruska, South Africa, def. Patrick Baur, West Germany, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0; Derrick Rostagno, St. Augustine, Fla., def. Martin Wostenholme, Canada, 6-3, 6-7 (7-4), 6-1. Second-Round Singles

Tim Mayotte, Bradenton, Fla., def. Ramesh Krishnan, India, 6-2, 6-1; Jim Grabb, Tucson def. Mark Woodforde, Canada, 6-2, 6-2; John McEnroe, New York, def. Paul Chamberlin, Del Mar, Calif., 6-2, 6-3; Brad Gilbert, Oakland, Calif., def. Eliot Teltscher, Palos Verdes, Calif., 6-1, 7-5. First-Round Doubles

Brod Dyke, Australia-Stefan Kruger, South Africa, def. Jim Delaney, Potomac, Md.-Scott Kidd, Potomac, Md., 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-0; Milan Srejber, Czechoslovakia-Alexander Volkov, Soviet Union, def. Peter Doohan, Australia-Laurie Warder, Australia, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-5; Ville Jansson, Woodlands, Tex.-John Sobel, Miami, def. Brian Page , Palos Hills, Ill.-Bryan Shelton, Huntsville, Ala., 6-1, 6-4; Todd Nelson, San Diego-Gianluca Pozzi, Italy def. Wayne Ferreira, South Africa-Piet Norval, South Africa, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Sanchez Vicario Wins

Associated Press

NEWPORT, R.I., July 17 -- Top-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain wasn't sharp but still advanced easily to the second round of the Virginia Slims of Newport tournament with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over unseeded Ginger Helgeson today.

Sanchez Vicario, No. 7 in the world, was broken twice in the first set, but won four of Helgeson's first five service games. "I was very aggressive and she missed a lot of balls because she had the pressure," Sanchez Vicario said.

Second-seeded Laura Gildemeister of Peru wasted two chances to win on serve in the second set and was upset, 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, by unseeded Liz Smylie of Australia. Smylie, ranked 49th, bounced back in the second set, breaking Gildemeister in the 10th and 12th games to force a tiebreaker.