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Miami Open preview: Matches, players and storylines to watch

Analyzing the Miami Open draws: What's the point of Miami and Indian Wells back to back? And the best matches to watch as the top 32 seeds get underway on Thursday and Friday.

A reader asked me last week: What's the point of having two joint mandatory events like Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back? How can we get excited for the latter? It's a fair question. The draws are remarkably similar—the only big name missing from this week's Miami Open is Roger Federer—and the rhythm of the two tournaments can mirror each other. The early rounds will move along slowly in the early days until the top 32 seeds get underway on Thursday and Friday.

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But the Miami Open is not a clone of Indian Wells. To wit: Rafael Nadal has won Indian Wells three times in his career yet he has never won in Miami. Maria Sharapova is in the same boat, with two Indian Wells titles but still chasing her first in Miami, an odd stat considering she spent much of her life training in Florida. The reverse is true for Andy Murray: The Brit has made an Indian Wells final just once but has won Miami twice. 

The explanation for it all? Some of it turns on the conditions. Indian Wells is dry and arid, which combined with a slow hard court means a high bouncing ball that can play into some players' strengths. Miami is heavy and humid and the balls stay lower. The vibe of Miami is far more lively and the humidity is a tough test for players. Some players simply check out mentally after Indian Wells, knowing that they're just a week away from the tour moving to clay.

This year, the Miami Open will see the return of Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Del Potro withdrew from the singles competition in Indian Wells, still unsure about his fitness, while No. 13 Tsonga will be playing his first tournament since Davis Cup last year. Gael Monfils is also back in action. 

But as much as things change, some things stay the same. In a random bout of luck, Serena's first two opponents could be the same as her two in Indian Wells. She'll open against the slicing and dicing Monica Niculescu, who troubled her in Indian Wells, in her opening round. She could then play No. 32 Zarina Diyas in the third round. Serena once again finds herself in the top half of the draw with No. 3 Simona Halep. The two were slated for a big semifinal showdown last week before Serena withdrew with a knee injury

Five takeaways from the draws

[Complete men's draw] [Complete women's draw]

Men's draw: With Federer skipping Miami, Nadal gets the No. 2 seed behind defending champion Novak Djokovic, who is in the top half with KeiNishikori, MilosRaonic and David Ferrer. Nadal leads the bottom half with Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych. Here are the projected quarterfinals: Djokovic-Ferrer, Nishikori-Raonic, Nadal-Berdych and Murray-Wawrinka.

Indian Wells Mailbag: Dimitrov's red face, Serena's return and more

Early men's matches to watch: Del Potro plays Vasek Pospisil in the first round and the winner will play No. 9 seed Grigor Dimitrov. It's another potentially tough draw for Dimitrov, who had to play Nick Kyrgios in the second round in Indian Wells. Wawrinka could open against the surging Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round, Jack Sock could get a shot at No. 21 seed Fabio Fognini in the second round and Murray could start his Miami campaign against Donald Young. 

Women's draw: Two-time defending champion Serena is the top seed and the biggest question is whether she's fit to play after pulling out of Indian Wells with a right knee injury. The most dangerous women in her quarter of the draw are Garbine Muguruza, Sabine Lisicki and Ana Ivanovic, with Halep looming in the semifinals. The bottom half of the draw is led by Sharapova, with Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ekaterina Makarova as the other top seeds. Here are the projected quarterfinals: Serena-Ivanovic, Halep-Eugenie Bouchard, Radwanska-Wozniacki, Sharapova-Makarova.

Early women's matches to watch: Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens could face off in the second round if Stephens wins her first round match. Indian Wells finalist Jelena Jankovic could open against Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Venus Williams returns to action after skipping Indian Wells and could face compatriot CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round. And Simona Halep could open against Nicole Vaidisova, who received a wildcard into the main draw. 

Player to watch: Bouchard has played just three tournaments in 2015—The Australian Open, Antwerp and Indian Wells—and she has yet to beat a player ranked higher than No. 36. There are also questions about her fitness after she sustained an abdominal injury in her loss to qualifier Lesia Tsurenko last week. She could play Keys or Stephens on her way into the quarterfinals, where she could face Halep. 

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