Na Li (CHN) hits the ball during her match against Jie Zheng (CHN) during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
INDIAN WELLS - Australian Open champion Li Na overcame familiar foe Zheng Jie 6-1, 7-5 on Saturday to reach the third round of the Indian Wells hardcourt tennis tournament.
Li, women's top seed in the combined ATP Masters and WTA tournament, breezed through the opening set in just 29 minutes, but found the going tougher in the second when she was broken twice to trail 2-4.
She finally got her nose in front of her Chinese compatriot with a service break for 6-5 and sealed it in the next game after one hour and 34 minutes.
"I still feel I have so many things I can improve," said Li, whose only other outing since her Australian Open triumph ended with a bewildering loss to a qualifier in the third round of the Qatar Open in February.
"This is my first match after Doha, two weeks, and of course I cannot be 100 percent the first match. But I was happy. At least I can learn something from today's match."
Li's current world number two ranking is the highest ever for an Asian player on the WTA Tour.
Zheng, now ranked 58th, was the first Chinese player to crack the top 15, back in 2009, and Li and Zheng played the first all-Chinese WTA final back in 2006.
So Li wasn't surprised that things got tight in the second set.
"Because we know so much about each other, me and Zheng Jie," she said. "We always train together with the national team for, like, 100 years."
But Zheng said Li's stature as a two-time Grand Slam winner made her a much different proposition now.
"For me it's a very big challenge," Zheng said. "The first set I felt so slow, and she played so aggressive."
Between sets her coach urged her to be more aggressive and that paid off, but when she was broken in the seventh game -- after leading 40-15, it was too much of an opening for Li, Zheng said.
"She's a top player, if you give her a little bit of a chance, it's finished."
Li next plays Czech Karolina Pliskova, a 7-5, 6-2 winner over compatriot Klara Zakopalova.
She said she hadn't scouted the Czech, in fact didn't even know that was who she'd face, and she certainly hasn't looked at who she might encounter in the later stages of the tournament.
"Doesn't matter if you are top seed or if you are not a seed," she said. "You just follow the schedule to be there round by round."
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