Azarenka defeated Serena Williams 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 6-3 in the 2013 Qatar final, the first of four title matches the sport's two highest-ranked women's players split last year, but Azarenka pulled out of the Qatar Total Open 2014 due to a foot infection and Williams will miss the event because of a back issue.
That leaves Li, in her first tournament since winning the 2014 Australian Open, as the top seed.
The win in Melbourne moved Li to No. 3 in the rankings, where she trails Azarenka by 11 points. With Azarenka to lose a hefty 900 points this week, Li will pass her for the No. 2 spot next Monday. Azarenka could drop even more, depending how fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, a semifinalist in 2013, does in 2014.
Williams, Azarenka, and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova (the other 2013 Qatar semifinalist) are the only Top 10 players not in the Qatar field this week. Sharapova has broadcast duties at the Sochi Olympics.
The WTA was off last week for the Fed Cup quarterfinals. Australia and Germany advanced and will meet in one semifinal in April. Defending champion Italy will go against the Czech Republic in the other. The Czechs picked up three points Monday and eliminated Spain 3-2.
The WTA Top 10, listing player's name, home country and rankings points:
1. Serena Williams, United States, 13,000
2. Victoria Azarenka, Belarus, 6,581
3. Li Na, China, 6,570
4. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland, 5,750
5. Maria Sharapova, Russia, 5,600
6. Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic, 4,745
7. Sara Errani, Italy, 4,425
8. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia, 4,310
9. Angelique Kerber, Germany, 4,030
10. Simona Halep, Romania, 3,760