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Beyond the Baseline

Djokovic, Murray lead Sony Open men's field without Federer, Nadal

Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic is 24-4 in his career at Miami (Cynthia Lum/Icon SMI).

Is this Miami draw a glimpse into the future of the ATP? Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are skipping the Sony Open to prepare for the clay season. Focus falls on last year's champion and runner-up, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Nadal and Federer's absences also create an opportunity for the Nos. 5-8 guys -- David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, to step up.

The field has complained about the daunting and spirit-breaking task of having to beat two of the Big 4 to win a big title. They may not have to this week. So will it be a wacky couple of weeks in Miami or business as usual for the power players?

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

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Novak Djokovic's half: Like last year, Djokovic goes into Miami after a surprising Indian Wells semifinal loss. In 2012, it was a tight loss to John Isner. This year it was blowing a 3-0 lead in the third to lose to Del Potro. But it's impossible not to back his chances for a third straight title in Miami. He could play a resurgent Tommy Haas in the fourth round, the big-serving Kevin Anderson in the quarterfinals and either Ferrer or Del Potro in the semifinals. For fireworks appeal alone, I'd love to see the Djokovic-Del Potro rematch and more specifically see Del Potro back up his Indian Wells run with a deep one here.

I expect Ferrer to bounce back here despite his early loss to Anderson in Indian Wells. Against Anderson he ran into a hot hand, but in Miami he'll be able to play himself through the early rounds, opening against a qualifier, and likely won't be tested until the quarterfinals, where he could face Del Potro. The Spaniard has been Del Potro's kryptonite over the years, holding a 6-2 head-to-head record. If Del Potro wins that match then it's a clear signal he's back to his 2009 form. That's the last year he beat Ferrer.

Semifinal prediction: Djokovic d. Ferrer.

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Andy Murray's half: Murray vs. Bernard Tomic in the second round? Bring it on. Murray, the 2009 champion in Miami, has a tricky early draw, especially given his struggles last week in Indian Wells. He did well to make the quarterfinals there but never looked settled on court. Perhaps reuniting with Ivan Lendl and playing at his training base, Crandon Park, will bring out the best. He could play a series of budding youngesters in Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov and Jerzy Janowicz in his first three matches before seeing the familiar face of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet or Milos Raonic.

Two names to keep an eye on are the two top Americans, Sam Querrey and John Isner. Both land in the bottom half of the draw. Isner in particular has a good shot at a confidence-bosting fourth-round run. He'll open against either Ivan Dodig or Lukas Lacko and then likely a winnable match against Marin Cilic. Getting a couple of wins here would be big for Isner's prospects during the clay season. Meanwhile, this will be Querrey's first tournament as the No. 1 American. He could face Canada's No. 1, Raonic, in the third round.

Semifinal Prediction: Murray d. Berdych.

First-round matches to watch: Ryan Harrison vs. James Blake, Benoit Paire vs. Michael Llodra, Lleyton Hewitt vs. Joao Sousa, Christian Harrison vs. Thomaz Bellucci, David Nalbandian vs. Jarkko Nieminen.

Potential second-round matches to watch: Andy Murray vs. Bernard Tomic, Lleyton Hewitt vs. Gilles Simon, Ryan Harrison vs. Julien Benneteau.

Potential third-round matches to watch: Sam Querrey vs. Milos Raonic, John Isner vs. Marin Cilic, Andy Murray vs. Grigor Dimitrov.

Final prediction: Djokovic d. Murray. 

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