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Can John Isner take the next step?

Is this 2006 or 2007? The way Roger Federer is playing, you'd be forgiven for wondering.

Federer has won 39 of his past 41 matches, and while he'll be annoyed with those two losses, he's the man to beat at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

Novak Djokovic, who put together a Federer-like 2011, hasn't played to his recent high standard, disappointing in Dubai and Indian Wells. Perhaps he's saving energy for the clay.

John Isner will be hoping to repeat his Indian Wells performance, while Rafael Nadal could do with no wind.

Here's a look at the draw:

First quarter: Will Nole step it up?

Djokovic possesses a 6-0 record against his probable second-round opponent. But does that tell the entire story?

Not one bit.

The player in question is Marcos Baghdatis, and Baghdatis always plays Djokovic tough. Further, Baghdatis raises his level on big courts; he's due for an upset win, and playing a first-round match will help him get used to the conditions.

If Djokovic reaches the third round and confronts Viktor Troicki, his countryman would be no slouch (recall their U.S. Open battle in 2010).

Juan Martin del Potro continues to make progress, although at this point, it's a little slower than expected. Losing to Federer four times this year is one thing, but losing to him all four times without taking a set is another.

We were deprived of a del Potro-David Ferrer fourth-round encounter in Indian Wells after Ferrer lost early again. But the chances of it happening in Miami are greater. Mind you, if Ferrer meets Bernard Tomic in the second round, and the Aussie wakes up, the Spaniard will have to be sharp.

Prediction: Del Potro

Second quarter: Roger and the Americans

Playing that exhibition against Federer at Madison Square Garden this month proved to be fruitful for Andy Roddick, since he downed the Swiss. It didn't count officially, but no doubt he'll take confidence from triumphing.

Here's more for Roddick to draw on if, as expected, he lands Federer in the third round: The last time he beat Federer on the tour was at the 2008 Sony Ericsson Open. A year later in Miami, he extended Federer to three sets.

Yes, times are different. Roddick, slowed by injuries and illness, sits at his lowest ranking (34) in 11 years and needed two withdrawals to get a seeding, while Federer is flying. But if nothing else, it's always an intriguing matchup.

If Djokovic's opener figures to be difficult, Federer's could force him to break into a mild sweat. Ryan Harrison looms. Harrison, who has sought advice from Roddick on career matters, raises his already impressive game against the elite and isn't one to be intimidated. He tested Federer last year in Indian Wells.

Mardy Fish has managed to stay in the top 10 because he didn't have many points to defend in 2012. That changes now. Fish reached the semis a year ago in Miami.

No match is easy, and a resurgent Jeremy Chardy in a potential second-rounder won't be a breeze.

Prediction: Federer

Third quarter: Milos, meet Mr. Murray

When Andy Murray reached the final in Dubai, we all thought the post-Australian Open swoon wouldn't happen this year. Then he went and lost to an out-of-form Guillermo Garcia Lopez in Indian Wells.

Where was the Lendl effect then?

Murray begins with either Denis Istomin, who's showing some of his breakthrough 2010 form, or Alejandro Falla. Falla, a fine returner, has troubled the top guys and would look to feast on Murray's second serve.

You would, though, pick Murray to advance. In the third round, it's probably Milos Raonic, the Canadian who handed Federer his closest match in Indian Wells.

Even though Murray usually gobbles up massive servers, the time appears right for Raonic to make his move at a Masters event.

David Nalbandian, like Murray one of the best players without a major, showed unusual grit -- if we don't include the Davis Cup -- in Indian Wells. Nalbandian and Tomas Berdych, who has regressed slightly in recent weeks, could tangle in the fourth round.

And don't forget about Fernando Gonzalez, another huge talent without a Slam. Retiring after Miami, Gonzalez begins with Nicolas Mahut in a clash of sentimental favorites Wednesday.

Prediction: Raonic

Fourth quarter: Nadal and Isner at the forefront

After Isner's display in Indian Wells that got him inside the top 10 and closer to Fish, he would have wanted a gentle start (in case he's still thinking about topping Djokovic et al).

But Isner's first tussle, against either Nikolay Davydenko or James Blake, will be a challenge. Davydenko is showing signs of life, playing Federer extremely close in Rotterdam and taking a set off del Potro in Marseille before retiring. He was one of those who succumbed to illness in Indian Wells, too.

Blake, playing in only his second tournament of 2012, would gain confidence by ousting Davydenko (he's 7-0 against the Russian) and the crowd might give him a little more support against Isner.

If Isner keeps winning, he'll likely draw Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round; Tsonga saved three match points when they battled on the Frenchman's home turf at the Paris Masters in November. Tsonga will have extra motivation after blowing a lead against Nalbandian in Indian Wells.

An Isner or Tsonga versus Nadal quarterfinal would entice.

Nadal, however, wasn't handed a comfortable section. His second-round opponent is either fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar, buoyed by being at a career-high 38th in the rankings and taking a set off Djokovic in Indian Wells, or Colombian Santiago Giraldo, the mini Davydenko who's playing well of late.

Kei Nishikori would be a threat in the fourth round, yet he'll have to get there first. Since Melbourne, he's gone a mediocre 4-4.

Prediction: Tsonga

Semifinals: Federer def. del Potro; Tsonga def. Raonic

Final: Federer def. Tsonga