After a superb start to the season that saw her go 21-3 through Miami, a knee injury kept Li out of Stuttgart, so her clay court debut came later than usual. She was also looking to put behind her bad memories of last year's Madrid opener, in which she managed just five games against Madison Keys. Flipkens also was making her 2014 clay court debut, as a left ankle injury kept her out of Stuttgart. An upset victory would be her fourth Top 10 win and the best of her career, having beaten World No.5 Samantha Stosur at 's-Hertogenbosch in 2012.
The Turning Point
Li was seemingly on the way to a routine win when she went up a set and 5-3. But Flipkens then won three straight games to seize the momentum and actually had two set points on Li's serve at 6-5. Li survived those, though, and got through a tie-break in which no player went up by more than one point until the last point, eventually sealing the 6-1, 7-6(7) triumph.
By The Numbers
Li converted on three of seven break point opportunities, while Flipkens made good on just one of six.
"It was my first match on clay, so in the beginning I had to find my rhythm a little bit, and Li was playing perfect tactically," Flipkens said. "I'm quite satisfied with the way I played in the second set. I had a couple set points. To play against the No.2 in the world in the first round is not an easy draw. Actually I'm quite happy with the way I played today."
"He has been a player. He knows the tour," Flipkens said of new coach and fellow Belgian Xavier Malisse. "He knows what a player needs, what they don't need. We're going to do all the tournaments until Wimbledon and then we'll do an evaluation. I worked with him in Miami for the first time and it worked out well. I feel good with him. I have known him for such a long time. He knows my personality. I know his, so it's easy to work with each other."
Li goes up against a player she is quite familiar with, fellow Chinese star Zheng Jie. Li actually trails in their head-to-head, 4-3, but has won three straight in straight sets.