Li had never lost to Errani in five previous meetings, and had won the last 10 sets they had played as well, and that trend continued as she won a relatively routine first set and, after falling back 3-1 in the second set, reeling off four games in a row to get to 63 53, with a match point on Errani's serve.
Li missed a forehand down the line into the net on that match point and an inspired Errani seized the momentum, not only pushing the set to a tie-break but building a 3-1 lead in that tie-break. But Li went on another tear from there, reeling off five points to get to 6-3 and triple match point, and on her fourth match point the No.4-seeded Chinese finally closed out the No.6-seeded Italian, 63 76(5).
"The first match is always tough," Li said. "I think Sara was fighting a lot today. Even when I had a match point she was still fighting a lot on the court, so yeah, I was really happy to win this match."
The crowd gave Li a large cheer as she walked onto the court - and the Chinese echoed the sentiment.
"Thank you to the fans," she said. "I always look forward to coming back to play in Istanbul."
Li was the clear aggressor during the match, her huge, flat blasts producing 42 winners to 35 unforced errors. Errani's differential wasn't as good but it was still positive - 14 winners and 13 unforced.
Having already had her day off for the week, Li will now have to turnaround and play her next match on Thursday, against No.7 seed Jelena Jankovic. Li has a narrow lead against Jankovic in their head-to-head series, 5-4, but in their most recent meeting at the US Open she lost only three games, 63 60.
"Right now I'm just enjoying this win," Li said. "When I play Jelena it's always a tough match. We know each other very well. I played her at the US Open, but that match doesn't mean anything tomorrow."
Li and Jankovic do indeed know each other very well - not only have they always been good friends on the tour, they were also doubles champions together all the way back in 2006, at Birmingham. In their long careers they have each only won one other WTA doubles title with another partner - Li won Tashkent in 2000 with fellow Chinese Li Ting, Jankovic in Toronto this year with Katarina Srebotnik.