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Saturday Sports: Naomi Osaka Is Out Of The U.S. Open

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Naomi Osaka loses in the third round of the U.S. Open and says she doesn't know when she'll play again. COVID benches more players as football begins - also the end of the Paralympics and a football team too bad to be true. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: Boy, Naomi Osaka lost third-round match to a great young Canadian player, Leylah Fernandez. Naomi Osaka threw down her racquet in frustration a few times. And I was so moved by what she said at the postgame news conference. She said, when I win, I don't feel happy. I feel more, like, relief. When I lose, I feel very sad.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. This continues a tough year for her - began on a high note, interestingly. She won the Australian Open for her fourth Grand Slam title. But then, you know, as many people know, she pulled out of the French Open and Wimbledon, saying she'd been dealing with anxiety and depression. She became a focal point in an ongoing discussion about athletes and mental health. And it appears she's still dealing with the issues. After last night's match, as you say, she tearfully said she thinks she's going to take a break from playing for a while.

SIMON: Yeah. College football starts this weekend, the NFL midweek. Many games might be won or lost according to COVID tests.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right, and vaccination rates, too. The so-called Power Five college conferences have a policy this season where if a team can't play because of COVID-19 issues, that team takes a loss due to forfeit, and games can't be rescheduled. So it behooves teams to be like the University of Mississippi, the first to announce 100% of its players are vaccinated. From the fans' perspective, with college football beginning in earnest today, Scott, with a full slate of games, many will have a pre-pandemic look and feel - tailgate parties, stands full of spectators. But obviously, it won't be exactly the same, some schools requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for fans to get in. Many will flock to games. Some will stay away. I have a friend with a ticket to today's game between No. 1 Alabama against Miami in Atlanta. She's a huge Bama fan, but she has a young child and has decided to skip the game and watch with a small group of friends.

SIMON: Oh, God bless. Maybe there should be a Pfizer Bowl - just thinking aloud. The Paralympics end tomorrow, but again, no fans in the stands. Some truly great athletes missed a lifetime chance on the world stage, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: They did. You know, with the Paralympics, we're always gauging how people are responding, especially with the watershed 2012 games in London, where the response was huge and positive. Without fans to fill the stadiums and arenas in Japan, you know, it was hard to gauge this year. Still, many watched from afar, and viewers got to see lots of great performances. You know, Scott, Paralympians often say, don't dwell on the disabilities.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Just look at us as athletes. But sometimes, it's impossible not to be amazed. Egyptian table tennis player Ibrahim Hamadtou - I know you saw video of him...

SIMON: Yes, it's amazing.

GOLDMAN: ...Lost both arms as a child, learned how to play table tennis holding the paddle in his mouth. He serves by gripping the ball with his toes and throwing it in the air - remarkable to watch.

SIMON: He's amazing. Lastly, we have to end with (laughter) Bishop Sycamore, a high school team with no discernable reality - no address, doesn't exist, was on ESPN last week.

GOLDMAN: It appears ESPN got duped by what appears to be a fake high school team, prompting commentary that maybe ESPN should stick to broadcasting college and the pros. But I understand you're going to take us out with an appropriate cheer.

SIMON: Yes, yes. I've been working on this. Ready?

GOLDMAN: Ready.

SIMON: Bishop Sycamore, we're just a scam. Sic 'em, Sycamore, wham, bam, sham.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Thank you. NPR's Tom Goldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.