The disparity between champion and runner-up at the Sovran Bank Classic rarely has been greater than in yesterday's final, the flash and smash of Andre Agassi simply too much for an older and colder Jim Grabb.

It would be unfair, though, to label Grabb an accidental finalist. He eased past John McEnroe-conqueror Derrick Rostagno in the quarterfinals, then ousted second seed Brad Gilbert in a see-saw three-setter. Grabb, ranked 38th, earned his place in the final, his run not diminished by an inability to execute once he got there.

"He's really developed into a world-class player," Grabb, 26, said of the 20-year-old Agassi, who slugged his way to a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Grabb and a $70,000 winner's check.

Grabb had trouble adjusting to the "heavy pace" with which Agassi was hitting the ball. Agassi passed Grabb, at the net, 14 times in the 62-minute match, forcing the 6-foot-4 Arizona native, whose success is based on a sustained serve-and-volley game, to alter his stategy several times.

But Grabb struggled more from the back court, registering only one ground stroke winner to Agassi's 22. Unable to dictate play as he did in victories over Rostagno and Gilbert, Grabb was left waiting for Agassi to make a mistake, a rare occurence in any of Agassi's five victories this week.

"I think that when they hang tough in the first set and lose, and know I'm only going to get stronger as the match progresses, it's a tough feeling," Agassi said. "That's a feeling I used to have every time I went out on the court."

Despite a loss in his second career singles final -- in 1987 at Seoul, Grabb beat a skinny youngster named Andre Agassi -- Grabb is progressing. His climb up the rankings ladder has been slow, but he appears to have established himself as a solid member of the top-40 after hovering in the nineties during his first three seasons on the tour.

At the very least, Grabb has shown recently he is more than a doubles specialist, a reputation perpetuated by his victories with Patrick McEnroe at the 1989 French Open and last year's Masters. But Grabb came to Washington coming off a first-round upset of French Open champion Andres Gomez last month at Wimbledon, his best result since January when he reached the semifinals at San Francisco before losing to Agassi, 6-2, 6-2.

"For me, for some reason, it's always been a slow process," said Grabb, who turned pro in 1986 after earning all-American status and an economics degree at Stanford. "I wish I'd had a meteoric ascent like some of these guys have had. But it's not my nature."

Grabb -- also hampered by a sore left leg -- nonetheless earned $36,880 in defeat to go with the boost in confidence he received as he prepares for next month's U.S. Open, where he lost to Agassi in the round of 16 in 1989.

"I always thought I could get back in the match," said Grabb, who recovered from a disastrous 6-0 loss to Gilbert in the second set of their semifinal to win, 7-5, 0-6, 6-4. "The victory over Gilbert will give me confidence tommorow and from now on.

"Both days I hung in there. Yesterday I was able to turn it around, today I wasn't."