China’s Li Na was a relieved woman on Sunday after thrashing her fellow ex-French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the China Open’s first round — a year after a humiliating defeat at the same stage.
Asia’s top women’s player, who needs a strong showing this week to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul next month with Australian Sam Stosur breathing down her neck for the eighth and last spot, dominated the match to win 6-2 6-3.
A year ago Li, after beating defending champion Schiavone in Paris to become Asia’s first singles grand slam winner, had slumped to an embarrassing straight-sets defeat to Romania’s Monica Niculescu in front of her home fans.
But on Sunday Li’s quick, aggressive style had Schiavone on the back foot right from the start and the pressure got to the Italian, who hit nine double faults in the first set and another three in the second.
Li will now play Pan Pacific Open winner Nadia Petrova in the next round.
Earlier, Britain’s Laura Robson took another step forward in her quest to break into the top 50 when she battled past an opponent more than twice her age.
The world No.57, who reached the final of the Guangzhou Open just over a week ago, continued her Asian adventure by defeating Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4 6-4 to ease into the second round of the Premier Mandatory event.
The mixed doubles silver medallist at the London Olympics has shot up the world rankings this year, in large part due to a fourth-round appearance at the US Open and her exploits in Guangzhou, and now has the top 50 in her sights.
“After this week I should be pretty close,” she said. “I’ve got to keep winning here for sure and do well in Osaka (next week) to have a chance.”
Robson will play Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino, who defeated Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-7 (7-4) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 in the next round of the compulsory event which ranks just behind the grand slams and the WTA Championships.
Elsewhere, ninth seed Marion Bartoli of France beat Serbian qualifier Bojana Jovanovski 6-3 6-3, while sixth seed Sara Errani from Italy was forced to retire with an injury, meaning compatriot Camila Giorgi went through.
Former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic of Serbia knocked out her doubles partner, Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-2 6-4.
Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina also took their places in the second round with straight-sets victories against Maria Kirilenko and Mona Barthel respectively.
Unseeded Niculescu enjoyed another good start to the tournament when she upset the Czech Republic’s 16th seed Lucie Safarova 6-2 6-0.
Ayumi Morita of Japan knocked out Spain’s Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-3 6-0 and China’s Peng Shuai beat Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.