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Saturday sports: NFL playoffs; the Australian Open and Novak Djokovic


And now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Will Novak Djokovic play in the Australian Open when it begins tomorrow or be sent packing? And then NFL playoffs, with historic cold expected in Buffalo. Meadowlark Media's Howard Bryant joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So Novak Djokovic is in detention, an immigration hotel for the second time. Will we see him at centre court tomorrow or just court?

BRYANT: Well, that is the $64,000 question. It appears unlikely that he will be, but who knows? The Australian government may be overruled again, and he will be back on court. It's been quite a saga and embarrassing for everyone, really. It's not just Novak Djokovic who tried to enter the country and his documents were not accurate, and he was given a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open by the governing body of the sport, Tennis Australia, when most of the people in the sport are vaccinated. And also, he didn't really meet the criteria, creating a huge backlash in the country. The people of Australia are saying, why does he get special treatment? Why are these players getting special treatment? So then Djokovic had his visa revoked. He won the first battle, and then the immigration minister revoked it again.

So very, very difficult situation for Tennis Australia, which probably shouldn't have allowed him in in the first place. And now we've got a battle for the world's greatest player - and very embarrassing, really, for the sport in a lot of ways because a uniform policy would have prevented all of this.

SIMON: Yeah. Speaking of the world's greatest player, on the women's side of the tournament, Serena Williams is sitting this one out. Naomi Osaka is back. What are you watching for?

BRYANT: I'm watching for those two. I think that you've got Ash Barty, who's the No. 1 player in the world, and you've got Naomi Osaka. They're in the same draw. And because Osaka took so much time off, Osaka is ranked - you know, she's in the 13 seed. So instead of those two meeting in a final, a final weekend or a semi-final like they normally would, they could meet in the fourth round. So they could meet right at the beginning of the second week of the tournament, and that would be the match of the tournament. It is great to see Osaka back on court. And Ash Barty is the hometown favorite, of course, as well, so that is certainly the one that you circle when you're looking at the draw.

SIMON: NFL playoffs start tonight - two games - Raiders vs. Bengals. Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Napoleon invaded Russia, right?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes, but a great season for them and the Raiders, now in Las Vegas. And it's a good matchup for both - teams that have something to prove. We saw that it's been, you know, kind of a strange season for the Raiders as well, considering that they've lost, you know - the season began with Jon Gruden. This is the first time ever that a team made the playoffs after a coaching change in mid-season. And so I think that'll be fun. And, of course, you've got the Patriots and the Bills meeting for the third time - the Patriots with rookie quarterback Mac Jones. And it's going to be interesting playoffs, Scott. Nobody's that good this year, even though we know the Packers are the one seed, and we know the Titans are the one seed over in the AFC. But I really think this is sort of up for grabs. I'm a throwback guy. I'm sort of looking forward to 49ers-Dallas Cowboys tomorrow.

SIMON: Yeah. That's the game I'm looking forward to. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

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.
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