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The daunting return of Serena

If no one was able to stop Victoria Azarenka in Indian Wells, what are the odds of derailing the surging world No. 1 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where she has won the title twice?

Well, Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters return to action, and if on form, they'll certainly challenge Miss 23-0. They, however, have rust to shake off.

Here's a breakdown of the draw.

First quarter: All down to Vika

In Indian Wells, Azarenka was most vulnerable in her opener against German Mona Barthel. But the chances are slim that Azarenka will be troubled in her second-round match (after a bye) in Miami, given that she'll meet either a qualifier or the once-promising-turned-journeywoman Michaella Krajicek.

Azarenka owns a 6-0 record against potential third-round foe Lucie Safarova and comfortably topped her likely fourth-round opponent, Angelique Kerber, in the Indian Wells semis. Azarenka needs to suffer a letdown to lose early, and don't count on it.

If Marion Bartoli is over her illness, she's the favorite to confront Azarenka in the quarters.

There's reason to cheer in Bartoli's mini-section, as Alisa Kleybanova is back after her lengthy battle with cancer.

"I don't want to think about rankings," said Kleybanova, who was ranked as high as No. 20. "I just want to be on the court and feel good."

We're with you.

Prediction: Azarenka

Second quarter: Venus versus Petra?

The matchup looks appealing: Venus Williams versus Petra Kvitova, a pair of Wimbledon champions, in the second round. We know Kvitova will be there, because she has a bye in the first round.

But just what Venus produces in the first round against Kimiko-Date Krumm -- their combined age is 72 -- is anyone's guess. Venus, suffering from Sjogren's syndrome, hasn't played a singles match since last year's U.S. Open. Making it through the match and feeling fine physically would be a positive.

Kvitova, struck down by injury and illness recently, needs a boost heading into the clay-court season.

Agnieszka Radwanska, the second-hottest player on the women's tour, will be thankful she's not in the same quarter as Azarenka. Relief. If Azarenka does happen to lose early, the Pole will fancy her chances to reach the final.

Ana Ivanovic had an uplifting Indian Wells by reaching the semifinals, but will she recover from her hip injury?

Prediction: Radwanska

Third quarter: Star-studded group

Scouring through the draw and wondering why you don't see Clijsters' name in the second round? No, she didn't withdraw. Her ranking has dipped, and she enters Miami at No. 37, so no bye.

Now there's a dangerous floater.

Clijsters, out since injuring her ankle in Melbourne, gets a tough first match, too, against unpredictable Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova. Then it's an in-form Julia Goerges and possibly battler Yanina Wickmayer.

Caroline Wozniacki is under pressure with her ranking sliding, and the draw did the Dane no favors. Christina McHale, who exceled in Miami, potentially faces Wozniacki in the third round, and the American toppled Wozniacki on a U.S. hard court last summer. If she advances to the fourth round, Goerges or Clijsters loom, and they've beaten Wozniacki this year.

At the top of the section, only a sizable upset would prevent a rematch between Serena Williams -- a five-time winner at the tournament she loves -- and Samantha Stosur. Eva Asderaki in the chair, anyone?

We'd take a Serena-Clijsters quarterfinal.

Prediction: Williams

Fourth quarter: Back on the horse, Maria

Maria Sharapova keeps finding herself in a position to win tournaments. Think of last year at the French Open and Wimbledon, and this year at the Australian Open and Indian Wells.

Unfortunately for her, she continues to be outclassed when it matters the most, dropping all four of those matches -- without winning a set. But you know Sharapova will keep on working and fighting, hoping to turn it around.

There's no early danger for Sharapova, unless she draws Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the fourth round. Pavlyuchenkova has the ability to dominate any player for spells, yet the 20-year-old is slumping, with a 2-6 record in 2012.

Li Na, Sharapova's conqueror at Roland Garros, is moving in the wrong direction. The unforced errors, not winners, flowed in her loss to Kerber in the last eight in Indian Wells. And that after she looked good in dispatching her first three opponents.

Sabine Lisicki might tangle with Li in the fourth round, which would be a repeat of their dramatic encounter at Wimbledon last year, won by Lisicki.

Prediction: Sharapova

Semifinals: Azarenka def. Radwanska, Serena Williams def. Sharapova

Final: Serena Williams def. Azarenka