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Saturday Sports: Australian Open finals; Mikaela Shiffrin's history-making run; NFL update

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And also, now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And a women's champion at the Australian Open. Men's final tomorrow. Mikaela Shiffrin continues to amaze. And conference championship weekend in the NFL. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with tennis, my friend.

GOLDMAN: Yes.

SIMON: The women's single final ended just this morning. I am going to pretend we didn't have it on here on one of the monitors in our studio. And I'm going to put on my best naive hosty voice. Tom, who is the new champion?

GOLDMAN: That's a very good naive voice.

SIMON: Thank you. I've been doing this for some time now. Yes, and?

GOLDMAN: Alina (ph) Sabalenka of Belarus, Scott.

SIMON: Yes, yes, yes. I noticed that, too. And it was very emotional (ph), yeah.

GOLDMAN: Six-foot-tall Sabalenka with a booming serve and booming groundstrokes beat defending Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina representing Kazakhstan, who also is 6 feet tall and also has a booming serve and booming groundstrokes. So Sabalenka out-boomed Rybakina, winning in three sets, staying unbeaten in 11 matches in 2023. So she's off to a great start.

SIMON: Men's singles - final is tomorrow. Novak Djokovic - unapologetic, unbowed, unvaccinated - versus a not-so-famous rising star.

GOLDMAN: He will play Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 24 years old, part of the new generation of great men's tennis players. Djokovic is the old timer at 35. And, yes, he has fought through this dross surrounded by his usual controversies - still some lingering negativity about his vaccination status. He also says he's been dealing with a hamstring injury, which some doubters have doubted because he's looked great and injury-free.

Even his dad got into some trouble posing at the tournament with a Russian flag - with a Russian fan - excuse me - holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin's picture on it. So through it all, Djokovic has played fantastic tennis. Tomorrow, he could win a record-extending 10th Australian Open singles title.

SIMON: And Mikaela Shiffrin, the great Alpine skiing star, she's been on a tear in this World Cup season - entered the weekend with 84 career wins, two shy of the all-time record. She raced this morning. I believe we've already acknowledged that she won.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Eighty-five, Scott. She won a slalom race in the Czech Republic. It has been quite a week for Mikaela Shiffrin. She set the record with her 83rd win, moving her past American Lindsey Vonn for most World Cup wins by a woman. The next day, she won No. 84 and now, today, No. 85. And this puts her one win away from tying the all-time record for women or men held by Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark. She races again tomorrow, could get it then. I think it's wonderful to see the success after the disappointment a year ago at the Winter Olympics in China, when she didn't even finish three races and failed to win a medal.

SIMON: Football, two huge games tomorrow. San Francisco versus Philadelphia, what do you expect?

GOLDMAN: Let me get my cop-out out of the way up top and say the four teams playing tomorrow, Scott, are all great. They can all win a Super Bowl. There's really no clear...

SIMON: Really? Really? You mean all four of them in the playoffs have a chance to win?

GOLDMAN: Yes. Amazing, isn't it?

SIMON: God, what a system. Yes, go ahead, Tom. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: The Eagles were the best team in their conference, the NFC, and perhaps the entire NFL for most of the year. Jalen Hurts has blossomed at quarterback. The defense has been great. San Francisco comes in riding a 12-game win streak, an offense led by the 23-year-old quarterback dubbed Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, taken dead last in the NFL draft. But the Niners' offense is stocked with great, explosive star players. San Francisco also has a top defense. I'm going to give the nod to Philly by virtue of home field.

SIMON: And Cincy-Kansas City - by the way, nobody's Mr. Irrelevant while you and I are still around. But go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Kansas City in its fifth straight AFC Conference championship game. The great Patrick Mahomes at quarterback - been nursing a high ankle sprain. We'll watch for that. I think Kansas City's tired of losing to Cincinnati. They've lost three straight. We'll see if they can break that negative streak and win at home.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Scott. 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.