Paris: Chinese defending champion Li Na overpowered Romania's Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-1 on Monday to advance to the second round of the French Open, sustaining Asia's hopes of another Grand Slam title.

The 30-year-old, world number seven, took just 58 minutes to dispose of the 22-year-old Cirstea, ranked 43, with a display of superior cross-court ball striking.

Li is bidding to become the first champion since Justin Henin in 2007 to defend the women's singles title at Roland Garros.

"I'll just try my best," Li said, when asked to rate her chances of a successful defence, adding that she worked hard on her footwork in the run-up to the French Open.

"It's tough for me to stay at the same level all the time," she said. The sight of a Chinese flag as she walked into centre court boosted her confidence before facing Cirstea.

"I was telling myself, you can do even better."

Li won the title last year from Francesca Schiavone, giving Asia its first ever singles title in any Grand Slam with a straight-sets demolition of the Italian.

She will face either Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic or France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon for a place in the last 32.

Earlier, Li's compatriot Zheng Jie beat Alize Cornet of France 6-4, 6-4, also using her edge in experience to clinch the match.

Zheng, 28, fought back after twice being broken to 4-4 to serve out both sets against the 22-year-old Cornet in front of the disappointed French crowd.

Since winning last year's French Open, which pushed her to a career-high number four, Li has struggled with her form and failed to win another title.

She made it to the final of the Sydney International this year where she lost to Victoria Azarenka.

At the Australian Open in Melbourne, Li failed to convert four match points in the fourth round against Belgium's Kim Clijsters and Azarenka went on to win the tournament and grab the world number one ranking.

After Melbourne, Li suffered quarterfinal exits at Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Madrid before finally reaching the final last weekend in Rome, only to falter once again.

Li was leading Maria Sharapova by a set and 4-0 but allowed the Russian to claw back and win the title with a third set tie-breaker after a rain delay.

Her disappointment at losing to Sharapova has not dissipated.

"The final in Rome is still killing me," Li said, after her win Monday before turning philosophical about the loss.

"I got experience. At least I can play tennis in the rain," she smiled.

"I haven't thought about my title of last year, I am just trying to enjoy playing," said Li.

Li will face either Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic or France's Stephanie Foretz Gacon for a place in the last 32.


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