Li Na, Kim Clijsters advance in Australia

Updated: January 16, 2012, 11:36 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Li Na returned to the tournament that launched her onto the global stage last year, breezing to a 6-3, 6-1 win over Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan on Monday in the first round of the Australian Open.

Li was a trailblazer for China last year, reaching a Grand Slam singles final for the first time before losing to Kim Clijsters in the deciding match of the Australian Open. At the next major, she won the French Open to confirm her place as a genuine star in the world's most populous nation.

"I hope I can go one better this year," Li said of her confidence-boosting buildup that included match wins at the Hopman Cup and Sydney. "So I was happy what I'm doing. ... Yeah, I think I just continue."

Fifth-seeded Li would meet Clijsters much earlier than the final this time, with the pair drawn into the same tough quarter along with No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.

Wozniacki, who injured her left wrist in a quarterfinal loss at the Sydney International, showed no signs of discomfort while cruising past Australia's Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-1 in the last match of the evening on Rod Laver Arena.

"I got a bit nervous about my wrist in Sydney, but I am happy I could play full-out tonight," Wozniacki said.

Clijsters began her bid to defend the Australian Open title when she beat qualifier Maria Joao Koehler 7-5, 6-1 in a first-round match.

Clijsters broke Koehler's serve at love in the final game of the opening set.

That started a 13-point run for Clijsters that included three double-faults by Koehler in the second game of the second set to give the Belgian a 2-0 lead.

"It was hard to really get a good rhythm out there," Clijsters said. "I did feel like I was seeing the ball probably not always as good as I would like to."

Clijsters has not lost in the first round of a major since the 2000 French Open.

She said she'd dealt with the "emotions and stress" of her hip injury, claiming she was lucky even to get a few warm-up matches in Brisbane.

Third-seeded Victoria Azarenka won 12 straight games to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes in the opening match on center court.

Azarenka, one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park, is coming off a victory over Li in the Sydney International final last week.

"Well, the score is easy. To actually play the match, it's never easy, especially for me coming here only Saturday," Azarenka said of the win over Watson, adding she was unsettled because she had to get to Melbourne Park so early there was nowhere open to buy her morning coffee.

"First time I actually hit on center court was today in the morning," she said.

The Sydney champion has gone on to reach the Australian Open final six times since 1997, winning twice. Li Na won in Sydney last year but lost the Australian Open final to Clijsters two weeks later.

After her win over Li in Sydney on Friday night, Azarenka is starting to gain a following in Melbourne's Chinese community.

"After beating Li Na, a lot of Chinese people started recognizing me," the 22-year-old from Belarus said about her experience at a Chinese restaurant. "That's a plus."

She'll get more local attention in coming days, with a second-round match against Australian wild-card Casey Dellacqua, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.

Of the six women who can reach the top ranking, eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska has the biggest task, having to win the Australian title. She had a battle on her hands just to make the second round, fending off American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2 in a three-hour match on Show Court 2. Mattek-Sands hit 81 winners but also had 65 unforced errors.

Radwanska remained composed after trading breaks early in the third set, winning five of the last six games.

Other women advancing included No. 16-seeded Peng Shuai of China, No. 20 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, No. 22 Julia Goerges, No. 26 Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-3, 6-2.

No. 19 Flavia Pennetta, No. 23 Lucie Safarova and No. 28 Yanina Wickmayer were among the first-round losers.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE