Venus Williams saved five match points in the second set and overcame her inconsistent ground game, rallying for a 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 victory over Patty Schnyder yesterday to reach the final of the Bank of the West Classic in Palo Alto, Calif.

The second-seeded Williams will play her 500th career match today in the very tournament where she made her debut 11 years ago, when it was in Oakland.

Williams got back in it by doing what she does best: dictating the pace, showing patience and getting big points with athletic winners at the net.

"It just seems as soon as disaster comes, I somehow find a way out of it," Williams said. "I didn't feel I was really on my game. My feet were slow and she played really well. You have to have that little extra step and I didn't feel like I had that today. I had to fight myself to get it out of me."

Williams will play for the championship against the winner of last night's match between No. 4 seed Kim Clijsters and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Williams looked tired at times and struggled with her serve in her first tournament since winning Wimbledon earlier this month.

Yesterday's match lasted 2 hours 2 minutes, with the second set at one hour. Williams raised both arms and managed a big smile after hitting a backhand winner down the line on match point. Moments later she was out of breath and slouching with her hands on her hips. . . .

Andre Agassi used a dazzling mix of shots to defeat Juan Ignacio Chela in straight sets and move into the Mercedes-Benz Cup final in Los Angeles.

The 35-year-old Agassi, his sights set on next month's U.S. Open, needed just 1:09 to beat his 25-year-old foe from Argentina, 6-4, 6-2.

The top-seeded Agassi will go for his fourth title in the event today against unseeded Gilles Muller, who survived two match points to upset second-seeded Dominik Hrbaty, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

Agassi is looking for his first title since winning at Cincinnati last August. Agassi said of the upcoming final: "I hope I'm not nervous," then added, "I'll certainly be excited." . . .

Top-seeded Anna Smashnova defeated Croatia's Jelena Kostanic, 6-2, 6-0, and will face Colombian qualifier Catalina Castano in today's final of the Budapest Grand Prix. . . .

Guillermo Coria overcame a loss in the first set and beat Filippo Volandri, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to the final of the Croatia Open in Umag.

Coria will face four-time champion Carlos Moya, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over Jiri Novak, in today's title match. . . .

Defending champion Nicolas Massu was eliminated from the Generali Open in Kitzbuehel, Austria, losing to unseeded Fernando Verdasco, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Verdasco will meet third-seeded Gaston Gaudio in today's final after Gaudio ousted Argentine compatriot Mariano Zabaleta, 6-1, 6-1.

* BASS FISHING: Aaron Martens moved into the lead at the Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh with a four-bass catch that totaled four pounds.

Martens is the only competitor who has caught nine regulation fish. His two-day total is 9 pounds 1 ounce.

"I had a terrible start," said Martens, who was tied for second place after the first day of competition. "I caught a keeper at the start of the day, but didn't have many more hits until after 12:30 p.m. At that point, I caught the other three within a short time."

Michael Iaconelli moved from seventh place to second with a five-bass catch that totaled 3 pounds, 12 ounces. His two-day total is 8 pounds 3 ounces.

The competition is so close that only one pound separates the top four individuals. Kevin VanDam is third with a two-day total of 8 pounds 2 ounces, while Jeff Reynolds has a total of 8 pounds 1 ounce.

* WATER POLO: Danilo Ikodinovic scored the go-ahead goal with 1:09 remaining, helping Serbia and Montenegro upset defending champion Hungary, 8-7, for the gold medal in men's water polo at the world swimming championships in Montreal.

It was Serbia and Montenegro's first world title since it competed as Yugoslavia in 1991. Ikodinovic had four goals, including two in the fourth quarter.

In the bronze medal match, Georgios Afroudakis scored the winning goal in overtime, giving Greece an 11-10 victory over Croatia and its first water polo medal at either the world championships or the Olympics.

"This is a big moment in Greek water polo. A few years before, we were at zero, really zero," Afroudakis said. "We can take something like this and go higher."

-- From News Services

In her first tournament since winning Wimbledon, Venus Williams returns a shot to Patty Schnyder in a semifinal victory at the Bank of the West Classic.