Halep, the World No 32, was the toughest possible second round opponent for a seed, with her high ranking and impressive winning run, but Li survived a second-set scare to eventually triumph 6-2, 1-6, 6-0.
Halep went into the match on the back of an 11-match unbeaten streak, winning Nuremburg on clay and s’Hertogenbosch on grass the following week to claim her first tour titles.
And Halep had already beaten Li in the US Open first round in straight sets in 2011 when the Chinese was the reigning French Open champion. It was their only previous encounter and was the first of two times that Halep had beaten a top-10 player.
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