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Saturday Sports: NFL conference; Australian Open without Djokovic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And I look forward all week to saying it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: New winner at the Australian Women's Open, men's final tomorrow and the NFL conference finals - Chiefs, Ravens, Lions and 49ers, oh, my. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Aryna Sabalenka defeated Zheng Qinwen of China in straight sets. It's her second Aussie title this morning. She's making a push for that world No. 1 ranking, isn't she?

BRYANT: Yeah, and I think she's going to get it, Scott. And this was a destruction - 76 minutes. And Aryna Sabalenka is a great player, but we all remember the last few years where she would fall apart in big moments when the altitude got thin, when she couldn't find her serve, when she had those matches with 20 double faults in them, and you just felt for her because she's a great player, she's a dominant player, and she would fall apart on the national stage, or the international stage, but no more. She's a great player. She came through in - there was no suspense to this at all. The great moment of the tournament, of course, was her beating Coco Gauff in the semifinal, because Gauff beat her in the final of the U.S. Open last year. So I'm looking forward to a great rivalry between the two of them for the upcoming years.

SIMON: Men's final is tomorrow and an unexpected one because Novak Djokovic isn't in it, is he?

BRYANT: No, unbelievable. Novak Djokovic was 20-0 at the semifinal stage, 10-0 in semifinals, 10-0 in finals. And finally the king is dead. Who took him down, but young Jannik Sinner, who had had - he had Djokovic two sets down at Wimbledon a couple of years ago and couldn't finish it. But this year, no denying him - an amazing tournament for him in the semifinal, took down Djokovic, didn't blink, and now he's got Daniil Medvedev, who has his own demons at the Australian Open, having lost the heartbreaker to Rafa Nadal in 2022 in the final here. It's going to be a great matchup.

SIMON: NFL conference finals tomorrow. On their way to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens host the defending champion, Kansas City Chiefs. What do you foresee?

BRYANT: Greatness. I see a great matchup. We've - what we've wanted to see - Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback, so maligned for all these years about how he wasn't a quarterback and wasn't this and all the things we talk about, all the things you can't do, and here he is. Baltimore is the best team in the league. He's in his moment. He's going to win the MVP. He's going up against Pat Mahomes, who's considered the best quarterback in the game right now, if not the best ever. And also Kansas City is the defending champion. Love seeing both of those. I think when you get to the NFC, what do we have here, Scott? We're going to...

SIMON: Adroit Detroit.

BRYANT: We're going to party like it's...

SIMON: Pat the cat.

BRYANT: That's right. We're going to party like it's 1957. The Lions are such - their fans, they suffer so badly. But I think the 49ers are probably a little bit better, but who knows?

SIMON: Adroit Detroit, as we...

BRYANT: Adroit Detroit.

SIMON: I got to come up with - I keep working on, you know, Detroit equivalent of fear the deer. What about don't pat the cat?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Well, yeah, I think that if you're the Lions, you just have to enjoy this. This team has been so historically bad for so long.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And this is their moment. It's - no team is great in the NFL right now, and so I think the 49ers are slightly better but a good battle.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.