This year's Sony Open draw sets up favorably for Serena Williams to defend her title. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Serena Williams and Andy Murray are both defending champions at this week's Sony Open in Miami. Only one drew a favorable course to repeat.
While Williams will likely have two matches to round into form and faces an accommodating half of the bracket en route to the final, Murray will possibly have to go through Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to defend his title.
Despite Murray's tough road, the Sony Open men's draw is, on the whole, more balanced than that of Indian Wells, which is good for later-round matchups but could offer some snoozers early in the tournament. As for the women, there are definitely some problematic sections in the draw, with a number of quality players clashing early.
Here’s a look at the draw winners and losers (qualifiers will be placed on Tuesday):
[Men's draw] [Women's draw]
Rafael Nadal: It's about time Nadal got a draw that didn't make his fans rip off their headbands in disgust. At the Australian Open, I referred to his section as "The Group of Death." In Indian Wells, it was a "minefield." Compared to those tournaments, this is a nice stroll along the sandy beaches of Key Biscayne. Murray, Djokovic and Federer are all in the opposite side of the draw, and the highest seed in Nadal's quarter is No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro, who arrives with injury concerns. The Spaniard's biggest actual threats before the final are Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka, both potential semifinal opponents, and Milos Raonic or Gael Monfils in his quarter. Nadal has never won Miami, but he'll be well-rested after his early exit in Indian Wells.
Roger Federer: Federer said he'll decide whether to play after he gets to Miami, but he has to like how the early part of his draw panned out. He opens against either a qualifier or Ivo Karlovic. Then he'll likely face Fernando Verdasco and either Kevin Anderson or Richard Gasquet, two players he should handle given his current form. Murray or Djokovic looms as a potential semifinal opponent, and then there's that pesky Nadal possibly waiting in the final, but this draw is set up for Federer to make his eighth straight tournament semifinal.
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Serena Williams: The defending champion is playing her first tournament since the Qatar Open, where she lost to Alize Cornet in the semifinals. The first thing I always look at when analyzing a Serena draw is whether she'll have two to three matches to play herself into form. This isn't a cakewalk draw by any means, but she will have a chance to knock off some rust early. Williams opens against either Francesca Schiavone (remember this?) or Yaroslava Shvedova and then possibly Klara Zakopalova. It will get tougher from there if her projected fourth-round opponent, either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Sam Stosur, is playing well, but with most of the high-octane veterans and hungry up-and-coming talent landing in the other half of the draw, this is as good as it gets for Serena.
Li Na: She's never made it past the quarterfinals in Miami, but Li drew the second softest section, behind Serena's. The highest seed she would have to beat to match her best result here is No. 15 Carla Suarez Navarro, and her quarterfinal opponent is projected to be Jelena Jankovic. From there, Li would play the winner of Agnieszka Radwanska's quarter (more on them below).
Jelena Jankovic: The 2013 semifinalist has been drawn into Li's section and a potential quarterfinal between the two is a toss-up (Li leads 6-4). Jankovic's marquee matchup before that is a potential fourth-round clash with either Sloane Stephens or Caroline Wozniacki.
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A repeat title for Andy Murray may require beating Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Good luck. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic: Given their respective forms, the draw has been far more cruel to Murray than Djokovic. But both may have to go through each other in the quarterfinals and then Federer in the semifinals, only to have to topple Nadal in the final. The good news is the early rounds should (italics used for Murray) be easy. Murray is slated to meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, and the Frenchman has been a mess lately. As for Djokovic, a fourth-round match against Ernests Gulbis would be fun to see. And potentially dangerous.
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Everyone in the Radwanska quarter: This quarter will yield the most must-see matches in the early rounds, which is boon for fans but a shame for everyone involved. Radwanska's status is uncertain because of the knee injury she sustained at Indian Wells, but Simona Halep, Venus Williams, Eugenie Bouchard and Dominika Cibulkova all landed in this quarter, along with the always dangerous Cornet, Andrea Petkovic and Casey Dellacqua, who has been in good form. Halep and Venus could play in the third round, with the winner possibly facing Cibulkova. Given Radwanska's injury concerns, it's Bouchard who might have the easiest route out of this group.
Maria Sharapova: The 2013 finalist is in Serena's half, which is bad news in and of itself. But Sharapova's early rounds won't be easy, either. She could have a third-round match against dangerous lefty Lucie Safarova, who came within an inch of altering the entire narrative of this season when she held a match point against Li in Melbourne, and then a possible fourth-round match against the erratic but talented Sabine Lisicki. Her quarterfinal opponent could be Flavia Pennetta, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Stanislas Wawrinka: Wawrinka will have to find his best form early. He could have to get through Marin Cilic, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Berdych just to make the semifinals, where he could get an Australian Open rematch with Nadal.
Sloane Stephens: If she sustains her Indian Wells form, she could be a surprise semifinalist out of the Li quarter. But in the third round she could play Wozniacki, against whom Stephens has never won a set in three matches, then Jankovic and Li. Big test for her.
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