Marat Safin played his best tennis in quite some time, beating Andre Agassi 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) yesterday to advance to the final of the Madrid Masters.

The third-seeded Russian will face Argentina's David Nalbandian, who defeated Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-4, in the other semifinal.

"Long time ago, really long time ago," Safin said when asked when he last played that well.

"I'm actually surprised. It was really difficult times in the summer. I didn't play well. I lost my confidence." . . .

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova advanced to the final of the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich, defeating fellow Russian Elena Dementieva, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. Sharapova will face Australia's Alicia Molik, a semifinal winner against No. 10 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland.

* SKIING: Anja Paerson picked up where she left off last year, winning the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. American Kristina Koznick was fourth, matching her best result of last season.

Paerson, a Swede who swept the World Cup giant slalom and slalom titles last season, sped down the Rettenbach Gletscher in a two-run time of 2 minutes 25.21 seconds. The Soelden course is considered the steepest and toughest giant slalom on the women's circuit.

* SOCCER: Abby Wambach became the fourth player in U.S. women's national team history to score five goals in a game, leading the Americans to a 5-0 victory over Ireland in Houston in the seventh game of the "Fan Celebration Tour." . . .

Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a hat trick to help Chelsea beat Blackburn, 4-0, in the English Premier League and close the gap to two points behind league-leading Arsenal.

* BOXING: Vivian Harris retained his WBA junior welterweight title in Berlin, stopping Germany's Oktay Urkal in the 11th round.

Harris (25-1-1, 17 knockouts) landed a short uppercut and Urkal (34-3, 10 KOs) pitched forward and fell stiff-legged to the canvas. He staggered to his feet, but the referee stopped the fight. . . .

Joseph Dorsey Jr., a boxer who won a 1957 fight against Louisiana's law banning interracial bouts, died on Wednesday. He was 69.

The law was passed in 1956 and Dorsey challenged it the next year, arguing that it was unconstitutional and deprived him as a black man of the chance to earn about $10,000 a year in purses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in 1958 that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

* PRO BASKETBALL: Tracy McGrady insists Orlando Magic General Manager John Weisbrod was transferring blame by saying players failed to take responsibility for an abysmal season.

The Magic finished last season 21-61. Weisbrod expressed concern over a lack of effort by the players. He took a parting shot at the two-time scoring champion after the trade, implying McGrady wasn't capable of leading a winning team.

"When you say things like [Weisbrod] said, that's just covering [yourself]," McGrady, now with Houston, said yesterday before a preseason game in Orlando. "I hated losing, but it just got to the point where we were losing so much, you kind of get used to it."

* SPEEDSKATING: Joey Cheek edged fellow Olympic medalist Casey FitzRandolph by two-hundredths of a second to win the 1,500-meter race in the U.S. Long Track Speedskating Team competition in West Allis, Wis. Cheek, the bronze medalist in the 1,000 at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, won the 1,500 in 1:49.56.

-- From News Services