Andy Murray happy to be back in South Florida as he tries to defend Sony Open title

The sun beat down on the Sony Open tournament grounds Monday, palm trees swayed, and defending champion Andy Murray was right where we left him at this time last year — working up a mighty sweat against David Ferrer on the purple Stadium Court.

Murray’s opening match is not until later in the week, but the sixth-ranked Scot has a condo in downtown Miami and has been training here since losing to Milos Raonic in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., early last week. Murray beat Ferrer in three sets in the Sony Open final last year and is looking for another title following offseason back surgery.

This will be his sixth tournament since the surgery, and his best result this season was the semifinals in Acapulco.

After his loss to Raonic, Murray told reporters he was looking forward to playing in South Florida, which he considers a second home. He said his back feels fine, and it’s just a matter of maintaining his intensity throughout the entire match.

“Obviously, Miami is a place I know well and I train a lot there,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll play well in Miami, which I have done quite a few times in the past. My matches have been a little bit patchy over the past few weeks.”

Sunscreen-lathered tennis fans watched as Murray and Ferrer trained across the net from each other on Monday at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park. Meanwhile, other fans sipped Moet & Chandon champagne at a nearby kiosk, while some sampled the food, which ranged from ceviche to sushi to crepes to custom salads. More than 300,000 fans attended the 2013 tournament, and even bigger crowds are expected this year with the return of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, both of whom missed the tournament last year.

The men’s draw was held Monday, and if Murray is to defend his title, he could face a quarterfinal against No. 2 Novak Djokovic, a semifinal against resurgent No. 5 Federer and a final against top-ranked Nadal.

The other potential quarterfinals are: Nadal vs. Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka vs. Tomas Berdych and Federer vs. Ferrer.

The women’s draw was held Sunday. Defending champion Serena Williams has a first-round bye and on Thursday afternoon faces the winner of the match between Francesca Schiavone and Yaroslava Shvedova.

Williams’ path to the final includes a possible quarterfinal against Angelique Kerber and a potential semifinal against longtime rival Maria Sharapova, who has Petra Kvitova in her quarter of the bracket. Sharapova’s first match is Thursday night.

Wild card Victoria Duval, an 18-year-old Haitian-American who spent much of her childhood in South Florida, plays a qualifier in the first round. If she wins, she faces Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion whom Duval upset in last year’s U.S. Open.

The other side of the women’s draw includes Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Jelena Jankovic and Simone Halep. Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki are also in that half. Li spent considerable time practicing on Stadium Court on Monday.

Qualifying rounds began Monday. Forty-eight women and 48 men compete for 12 spots in each of the main draws. They have to win three matches to get in.

Among the notable players who won on opening day was Shahar Peer of Israel, wgo was ranked as high as No. 11 in the world in 2011 and now at No. 88 is trying to resurrect her career. Peer is 2-6 this year and lost her opening match in the past three tournaments. She beat Tadeja Majeric of Slovenia 6-3, 6-2 on Monday.

Other winners in women’s qualifying included Petra Cetkovska (Czech Republic), Julia Goerges (Germany) and Johanna Larsson (Sweden).

Among the men advancing were American Jack Sock, Andrey Golubev (Kazakhstan), Thiemo DeBakker (Netherlands), Paul-Henri Mathieu (France), Benjamin Becker (Germany), Daniel Evans (Great Britain), Malek Jaziri (Tunisia) and Alex Bogomolov Jr. (Russia).

Qualifying continues Tuesday, along with the start of the women’s main draw. Djokovic and Federer play their opening matches Friday afternoon, and Nadal is the Saturday night headliner.