Having missed the tournament last year, Li Na made a winning return to the BNP Paribas Open with a straight set victory against fellow Chinese trailblazer Zheng Jie.
WTA Staff

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Li Na made a winning return to the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, beating fellow Chinese trailblazer and longtime rival Zheng Jie in a tight two-setter on center court.

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Having missed last year's tournament with an ankle injury, Li comes into this year's tournament with literally everything to gain - and she got that campaign going with a 61 75 victory against Zheng.

Li looked headed for a much simpler straight set victory midway through the match, going up a set and a break at 61 21. Zheng fought back - she won three games in a row to lead 4-2 and, after Li caught up, held serve to get within a game of the set at 5-4. But the No.1-seeded Li shut that window quickly, holding at love to even it up at 5-5, then broke and held again to finish off the 65-minute second set.

It was Li's third straight win over Zheng, though Zheng still leads the overall head-to-head, 4-3.

"I'm happy with the result today, but I still feel I have so many things I can improve," Li said. "This was my first match since Doha three weeks ago, and I probably won't be 100% for my first match back.

"But I was happy I could at least learn some things from today's match."

And on her relationship with Zheng - a former Top 15 player and two-time Grand Slam semifinalist?

"There's always something special between us because we're from the same country, we played on the national team a couple of years, we've trained and eaten together - we know each other very well. But Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai are always the Chinese girls I'm playing - I wish we could have more.

"We had a lot of Chinese players in Melbourne this year, which was good for us."

Awaiting Li in the third round is Karolina Pliskova, who went on a mid-match tear to beat No.28 seed Klara Zakopalova, 75 62. Zakopalova was up 5-3 in the first set when Pliskova reeled off eight games in a row, saving a set point along the way and building a 75 40 lead. The Czech never looked back.

Li and Pliskova will be playing for the first time. Pliskova is 0-5 against Top 10 players.

Some more early winners were No.8 seed Petra Kvitova, No.11 seed Ana Ivanovic, No.12 seed Dominika Cibulkova, No.21 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No.27 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Ivanovic had the most dramatic win of the bunch, not only rallying from a set down but also a break down in the second set and three times a break down in the third to beat Elina Svitolina, 46 75 76(1).