By Steve Gorten

KEY BISCAYNE – Sitting in the shade a few yards from a section of recreational sand that’s a new feature at the 2015 Miami Open, Maria Sharapova raved about returning to the tournament where she’s had much success, reaching the finals on five spate occasions.

“I always enjoy coming back to Miami,” Sharapova said Monday, the first day of two media days at the tournament. “I’m quite familiar with the city, with the tournament, so it’s always nice to come back to a familiar place.”

This year, the Miami Open has a new look. It has added a beach-like area covered with white Adirondack chairs that will transform into a volleyball court when some of the world’s best pro beach volleyball players play in an exhibition tournament. The rest of the time, tennis fans can lounge in chairs, sink their feet into the sand, and watch matches on a large screen TV.

“There’s a lot of little things going on for the fans that us players don’t get to see as much,” Sharapova said, laughing. “We hear about it a lot. I just saw the sand there. I was, like, ‘All right, well I won’t be seeing that again.’ But it’s nice that I saw it. I think all of the things are to make it a fan-friendly event.”

The first round of women’s main draw singles started Tuesday while Men’s and Women’s qualifying singles continued. It’s a long, tough event, Sharapova said. But one she enjoys because of its unique nature.

“There’s a friendly vibe and atmosphere playing here. As big as the tournament has become, it still has a pretty intimate feel to it,” said the world’s No. 2 ranked player. “I always enjoy playing in intimate arenas. You feel the energy and atmosphere much more.”

Like Sharapova, Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki, who train in South Florida, are happy to be back for this tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center.

Wozniacki said she has owned a residence in Miami for several years.

“I have a lot of friends here, so I have a great time,” she said. “I go to all the restaurants. I went shopping the other day, and to the [Miami] Heat game. …It’s not a bad place to be.”

John Isner, Ekaterina Makarova, Simona Halep, Stan Wawrinka, Murray, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, Rafael Nadal, and Genie Bouchard also spoke as part of media day Monday, after which they signed autographs and took pictures with fans.