Having lost four of her six previous meetings against Daniela Hantuchova, including their last two meetings at Eastbourne in 2011 and the Olympics in 2012, the No.4-seeded Li came out looking fierce and focused, winning the first 10 games of the match to build a somewhat surprising 60 40 lead. It wasn't over - Hantuchova won four of the next five games to close that 4-0 second set deficit to 5-4 - but Li went up 40-0 in her last service game and eventually won it on her third match point, 60 64.
"I had a pretty good start of the match until 4-0 in the second set," Li said. "I saw it was 4-0 and I was like, 'Okay, maybe I should relax a little bit.' But at this level I cannot do this. You see the score in the second set. Relaxing a little bit just gives your opponent all the time they need, and a chance to get back into it. But I'm happy I could win in the end and at least pass through the first round."
It may have been a close encounter towards the end, but for most of the match Li looked spectacular - how did she lift her game so much against a player who has given her so much trouble in the past?
"She has very flat strokes, and yesterday when I was practicing, Carlos emphasized I have to lower my body a little bit," Li said. "That's probably why the strategy I had was in line with Daniela's style."
There's a different aura around Li this year in Beijing - she is already one of the qualifiers for the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul. Last year she qualified after reaching the semifinals.
"Last year, I knew I was qualified for the WTA Championships after the China Open, but this year I don't have too much pressure like I did last year," Li said. "And a lot has changed since last year too. A year has passed. And I know now that the last match I played will be very different to the next one. I've learned that there's really no comparison between two matches - every match is a new match."
Li's match against Hantuchova actually wasn't her first match of the tournament - she played against ATP World Tour World No.1 Novak Djokovic in an exhibition match on Saturday, and she won (although she was given a 30-0 lead in every game they played). She was asked about it on Sunday.
"Even before the exhibition match I didn't know how the match would be played," Li said. "It was a very good opportunity. Djokovic is very funny - he's always making jokes and doing funny performances. But everybody always enjoys those performances - everybody enjoys the very relaxed atmosphere."
Awaiting Li in the match after that could be a very tricky opponent - either Venus Williams, who got a first round bye after reaching the semifinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo last week, or No.13 seed Sabine Lisicki, who beat Chanelle Scheepers in the last match of the day on Sunday, 63 62.