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LA Rams And New England Patriots Face Off For Super Bowl LIII


Now it's time for sports.


SIMON: Spoiler alert - this is a news show. We're going to have the results of the Australian Open. Naomi Osaka of Japan has won the women's title at the Australian Open, defeating Petra Kvitova. And rumor has it there's a big football game of some sort next week in the United States. Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine and joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott. What do you mean you need a spoiler alert? You didn't - you weren't up at 3:30 in the morning to watch the women's championship of the Australian Open...

SIMON: I was up at 4:30. And, you know...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...There are people who complain when we put the results of a sports event in - you know, on the news. So...

BRYANT: In real time.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, it's news, not a novel.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: In any event, Naomi Osaka has followed her victory in the U.S. Open with this Grand Slam title. Makes her No. 1 in the world right now, doesn't it?

BRYANT: First Asian woman to be named No. 1 in the world ever, amazing follow-up to winning her first major back in September at the U.S. Open over Serena Williams, first woman since 2001 - Jennifer Capriati - to win the next major following her first - so to go consecutively - an incredible match. It wasn't easy for her at all, considering the fact that she was up a set and serving 5-3 - I'm sorry - receiving 5-3 for the match and ended up having three match points, lost them all, ended up losing four straight games. And she showed a lot of heart for a 21-year-old to...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Not finish off the match the way she did. And to really come back in the third set and claim this championship was remarkable and tough for Petra Kvitova as well. This was a match that I really had no - you didn't want to see anybody lose...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: Coming back from the knife attack that the - Petra suffered in the Czech Republic in 2016, she didn't think she was ever going to play tennis again. And it was just an amazing match between...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Two champions.

SIMON: We got to note to a particular significance in Japan. Naomi Osaka has become a national symbol there. She has a mixed racial background. That's unusual in Japan...

BRYANT: Her Haitian father, Leonard, who we never see. We hear of him. We know he exists, but he never sits in her box because he is so nervous to watch the match, to see his daughter play that he sort of roams the stadium. He's never on camera, but he's always with her. And it's a fantastic story.

SIMON: Aw, God bless him.

BRYANT: (Laughter) It's a fantastic story, considering that this is one of the things that you look at with tennis, that at 20 years old, 18 years old, people have been talking about her being a great player. And now she's really backed it up. And it's also in this tournament, as well, that Serena Williams had a 5-1 lead against Pliskova in the quarterfinals to have a rematch with Osaka. And Serena ended up losing that match. She injured her ankle and lost the next six games and lost the match. That's the beauty of tennis. It's the reason why I love tennis so much. It's the reason why I love baseball. You can't run out the clock in this sport, Scott. You've got to get that - you've got to win the final point. You have to get the final out. Otherwise, things can happen.

SIMON: Let's turn a little bit to that football game just a week away. The Rams are back in LA again, against the Patriots with what seems like their annual appearance in the Super Bowl. A lot of people, though, still aren't over that controversial no-call of pass interference by officials.

BRYANT: In the NFC Championship game between the Rams and the Saints and then, also, the officiating between - in the Patriots game with the phantom roughing-the-passer call against - with Tom Brady in the Chiefs-Patriots game. It's a really interesting thing, Scott, because you want to look at football and say that the sport is obviously in trouble for all the problems that it has. Aesthetically, of course, it has problems. You can't tell what a catch is, you know, arguing about the rules and the referees getting involved. But, at the same time, when you look at the revenue, when you look at the excitement, when you look at the interest, it's hard to say that the sport has a problem. But, at the same time, how do you look at a championship game - every year, we have these questions or these controversies. At some point, maybe you're going to start reviewing even pass interference calls. I can't imagine more conferences during a football game.

SIMON: Do you love or hate the Patriots?

BRYANT: I'm from Boston. I can't answer that.


BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: You can't answer it, which suggests you don't have, well - I - you got to respect Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and that dynasty headed back for their ninth Super Bowl.

BRYANT: Phenomenal accomplishment what that team has done.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine and Thanks very much, Howard. Talk to you soon.

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