BEIJING: Li Na said she was enjoying her most consistent season ever after she won her first match at the China Open on Sunday (Monday in Manila), joining top seed Serena Williams in the second round.
The Chinese star opened her bid for her biggest title on home soil in stunning fashion by winning every game in the first set against Daniela Hantuchova, much to the enjoyment of her fans at Beijing’s National Tennis Center.
But the world number five had to overcome a late surge from her Slovakian opponent which sent jitters through the home crowd.
Hantuchova did not get on the scoreboard until the hour mark, with the 2011 French Open singles champion cruising at 4-0 in the second set and seemingly in command.
The 30-year-old, who has beaten Li four times in their previous six meetings, then staged an impressive comeback until Li regained her composure to close in on victory.
The Chinese star has faced scrutiny in the past for seemingly breaking down in matches. She blamed herself for losing her US Open semi-final match this month after being overwhelmed by the occasion.
But the 31-year-old said her only problem in Beijing could be that she was too relaxed this year, following a strong season which has also brought a seventh career title, her second Australian Open final and a strong run at Wimbledon.
“I think I had a pretty good match until I was 4-0 up in the second set, and then I thought ‘OK, maybe I should relax a little’,” Li said.
“But at this level you cannot do this,” she added. “It just gives the opponent time to take their chance.”
Li also said she was not under pressure to perform in Beijing, adding: “I think this season I am having the most consistent performances of my career.”
Li has twice reached the semi-finals at the prestigious Beijing event without being able to go all the way. She has won twice in China, in Shenzhen this year and in Guangzhou in 2004.
Joining her in the second round is top seed and 2004 champion Williams. The American claimed victory over Russia’s Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-2.
Another former champion, Agnieszka Radwanska, overcome early tournament nerves to cruise through to the next stage.
The Polish world number four and 2011 winner in Beijing lost the opening set of her first-round match to a feisty Stefanie Voegele, who is ranked 52 places behind her.
But the tournament’s third seed recovered her composure to seal a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory which sent her Swiss opponent out at the first hurdle.
British number one Laura Robson also won her opening game in Beijing, with a three set victory over Czech Klara Zakopolava.
But it was heartbreak for Australia’s top player, Samantha Stosur, at the dual WTA and ATP tournament.
The 15th seed lost in two sets to Czech Lucie Safarova, 7-5, 6-3.
The second day of women’s matches also saw Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi claim victory over Germany’s Julia Goerges 7-5, 6-4, and American Madison Keys defeat Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3.
The China Open will reach its climax on October 6.
The women’s tournament has 64 competitors, while the men’s, which was at the qualification stage on Sunday, involves 32 competitors.