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Saturday Sports: NFL playoffs; Australian Open; Olympic figure skating doping scandal

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Wild Card Weekend in the NFL. The Australian Open opens. And an Olympic doping controversy continues. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: The NFL playoffs begin today - six games on the schedule, but it's not just business as usual. The Buffalo Bills play the Miami Dolphins tomorrow, and those are two teams whose seasons have been rocked and saddened by serious on-field injuries to two star players.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it's ironic, isn't it, Scott, that these two are meeting - of course, the Bills with Damar Hamlin, whose terrifying cardiac arrest actually has had a happy ending. You know, he's home recovering now. The Bills are nearly two touchdown favorites over Miami. Big part of that is because the Dolphins' quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, won't play tomorrow, still recovering from a third concussion since September. Scott, I talked to renowned neurosurgeon and concussion expert Dr. Julian Bailes. He consulted with the Dolphins on Tua's situation. He thinks it's definitely appropriate to keep Tua out of action at this point.

JULIAN BAILES: If you have three or more concussions in a finite period of time, then we believe the risk for more prolonged, more serious long-term effects - all of that increases.

GOLDMAN: Now, Dr. Bailes thinks that three-or-more-concussion threshold is the time to, in his words, stop and consider, which many believe Tua should do, even though he's only 24.

SIMON: The Australian Open starts tomorrow. Novak Djokovic is back this year - still unvaccinated, as far as we know. What do you look for in the men's tournament?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, unvaccinated, but he won't be deported this year like he was last year, since the Australian government has relaxed its COVID rules. Djokovic is one of the favorites as he tries to win a 10th Australian Open. He's helped by the fact that Spain's Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old who took men's tennis by storm last season - he's out with an injury. The other great Spaniard, the legend Rafa Nadal - he's the top seed and the defending champ, but, you know, he hasn't looked sharp recently. He's always battling injuries.

SIMON: I want to hear what he says about you. What do you mean, he hasn't looked sharp? But go ahead. All right.

GOLDMAN: And he's got a really tough draw, starting with a highly anticipated first-round match against a rising player from the U.K., 21-year-old 6-foot-4 left-hander Jack Draper.

SIMON: Women's side - no Serena and no defending champ Ash Barty, but lots of intrigue, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there is. You know, top-ranked Iga Swiatek, No. 2 Ons Jabeur - they lead the way. The U.S. is well-represented with Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff. One to watch, Scott - 6-foot-tall Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. She's an aggressive, powerful player, and she's beaten the world's top-ranked players already.

SIMON: Finally, any resolution in the doping scandal that rocked figure skating during the Winter Olympics?

GOLDMAN: Not really. There's a new development, though. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency basically exonerated Russian teenage star skater Kamila Valieva, who tested positive for a banned drug before the Beijing Olympics but was allowed to compete at the games. The World Anti-Doping Agency is expected to appeal, which will drag this case out even more. You know, Scott, really too bad for the skaters in the Olympic team event, which Valieva helped Russia win. The skaters from the U.S. and Japan, they finished second and third. They still haven't gotten their medals because that event's on hold because of Valieva's doping case. Now, once it's resolved, those Olympic competitors will get their medals, but, you know, they'll always have missed that proud podium moment in Beijing.

SIMON: Yeah. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.