Li collected the title at Shenzhen, China, on Saturday but needed more than 2 hours to get out of the first round at Sydney, eventually beating Christina McHale 7-6 (7-2), 7-5.
There were 11 breaks in the 24-game match, with Li getting six of them. Li had a statistical advantage -- winning 58 percent of the points on serve and 51 percent receiving -- but still was on the court 2 hours, 3 minutes before completing the win.
Third-seeded Sara Errani had an easier time gaining the second round, stopped Karolina Pliskova 6-1, 6-3 in 51 minutes. Errani didn't face a break point, losing eight points in eight serving games.
The Apia International, a final tune-up before next week's Australian Open, field featured seven Top 10 players -- all but No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, second-ranked Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Serena Williams.