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Beyond the Baseline

Serena Williams faces tough draw at Sony Open in Miami

Serena Williams Serena Williams has won five times in Miami, the last in 2008. (Bill Kostroun/AP)

The Sony Open may have lost to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells when it comes to the "Fifth Slam" designation, but Miami will likely always have one thing Indian Wells won't: Serena Williams. Her commitment to skip Indian Wells and play Miami means that while the men's draw this year is relatively weak with the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the women's draw boasts the top five players and a draw that looks awfully Slam-like.

Here's a breakdown of the women's draw (complete draw available here):

Report Card: Sharapova leads Indian Wells grades

Serena Williams' half: This will be Serena's first tournament as the WTA No. 1 since Wimbledon 2010, after overtaking Victoria Azarenka in Doha last month. She'll keep the No. 1 ranking after Miami unless she fails to make the quarterfinals and No. 2 Maria Sharapova or No. 3 Azarenka win the title. The good news for Serena is she'll have a few relatively easy matches to shake off any competitive rust. The bad news is her half of the draw is full of dangerous players once she reaches the quarterfinals where she could face either Caroline Wozniacki, who beat her here last year, or Li Na, who is playing her first tournament since making the Australian Open final. Get past that test and she could face a slew of quality players in Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Marion Bartoli, Sloane Stephens and even her sister, Venus. It's a tough draw on the whole, but with just quarterfinal points to defend this tournament affords an opportunity to get some distance from Sharapova and Azarenka in the rankings.

Other than Serena, Miami marks the much-welcomed return of Li, who has spent the last month and a half rehabilitating the right ankle injury she sustained in the Australian Open final. Given her absence from the tour it's easy to forget how great she played in the first month, winning a title in Shenzhen, making the semifinals of Sydney and the finals of the Australian Open, where she beat both Radwanska and Sharapova before a string of bad luck in the final -- Ankle Sprains! Concussions! Fireworks! -- cost her against Azarenka. She's a force if healthy.

The highlight match of the early rounds is a potential Venus-Stephens clash in the third round. That could be interesting.

Semifinal prediction: Serena d. Petra Kvitova. 

Victoria Azarenka's half: How healthy is Azarenka? She withdrew before a match for the second time this season in Indian Wells, citing a foot injury, and may be tempted to skip Miami with the grueling clay swing coming up. So far, she remains in the field. Aside from the fact Sharapova was drawn into her half, it should be a cakewalk to the semifinals if she's healthy. She could open up against American Madison Keys, 18, in the second round and either Alize Cornet or Laura Robson in the third round. The next highest seed in her quarter is Angelique Kerber, against whom she's never lost.

In the other quarter, Sharapova could face two talented players who she beat relatively easily on her way to the BNP Paribas Open title last week. Maria Kirilenko is her projected fourth-round opponent, and Sara Errani could be waiting in the quarterfinals.

Semifinal prediction: Sharapova d. Azarenka.

Video: Countdown of best shots from Indian Wells

First-round matches to watch: Andrea Petkovic vs. Bojana Jovanovski, Victoria Duval vs. Andrea Hlavackova, Jamie Hampton vs. Monica Niculescu, Laura Robson vs. Camila Giorgi, Madison Keys vs. Qualifier.

Potential second-round matches to watch: Madison Keys vs. Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Ekaterina Makarova, Venus Williams vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm, Andrea Petkovic vs. Marion Bartoli, Urszula Radwanska vs. Ana Ivanovic, Monica Puig vs. Maria Kirilenko.

Potential third-round matches to watch: Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens, Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Mona Barthel, Ana Ivanovic vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova/Ekaterina Makarova, Jelena Jankovic vs. Nadia Petrova.

Final Prediction: Serena d. Sharapova.

Daily Bagel: Roddick's emotional 2012 Sony Open

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