Serena Williams, Li Na advance

MASON, Ohio -- Serena Williams is focused on her next match, not her distinguished history.

Williams took the first step toward winning a third consecutive tournament when she beat Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.

Williams, who last won three straight tournaments at the beginning of the 2008 season, has improved her world ranking from No. 175 to No. 31 in her comeback from injury and illness. She has won 12 straight matches, tying Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka for the longest such streak on the WTA Tour this year.

"I'm not going for three," she said. "I just want to play the best that I can. I don't even think about that kind of stuff."

Williams was pushed by Hradecka in the second set. She built a 5-1 lead before Hradecka rallied to take the lead. Williams regrouped to force a tiebreak and advanced to the second round when Hradecka double-faulted on match point.

"I was upset that I didn't close it out," Williams said. "She started playing different and playing better -- running a lot."

Williams next plays Australian Samantha Stosur in the third round. Williams beat Stosur 6-4, 6-2 in the final last week in Toronto.

French Open champion Li Na beat Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4 to become the first woman to reach the third round. The win was Li's first since losing in the second round at Wimbledon. She lost in the first round last week in Toronto.

"I needed some matches for the hard court," said Li, who reached the Australian Open final in January. "It's always tough, but I was happy I could win the match today."

Fourth-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova, sixth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova and No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli of France all cruised into the third round. Sharapova moved past Australian Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-3; Kvitova advanced with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over South African Chanelle Scheepers; and Bartoli posted a 6-1, 6-2 win over Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko.

Sharapova, runner-up this year at Wimbledon, felt as if she got her week off to a good start.

"I started the match quite well," she said. "I had some ups and downs in the second set, but I played aggressively."

Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, seeded 13th, advanced to the second round with a 6-0, 6-3 romp over Czech Iveta Benesova but barely got to the court on time. Her car ran out of gas on the way to the match.

"I was like, 'Oh my God. Great. I've got 20 minutes to my practice session,' " Jankovic said. "Luckily, the gas station was, like, two minutes' walk. There were some players passing through and looking at us in the middle of the road like, 'What is she doing up there?' Pretty funny. It's not how you begin the day but how you end it."

Flavia Pennetta upset 12th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, and 10th-seeded Stosur, 16th-seeded Shuai Peng of China and No. 17 seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium also advanced.