The early signs were positive for Li, as Sharapova struggled with her serve. She double faulted with her first two attempts, but righted the ship with a hefty forehand.
That did not deter the Chinese player, who denied Sharapova the early hold with a brilliant backhand down the line before the Russian ultimately netted to see Li take the lead.
Sharapova threatened to break straight back in the next game, but Li found another brilliant backhand to consolidate the break.
Just when the second seed showed signs of settling into the contest, Li secured the double break to go 4-1 ahead.
The four-time Grand Slam champion did manage to get one of the breaks back, but again Li came storming back to take a 5-2 lead and serve for the set.
Sharapova was struggling to cope with the brilliance of the Chinese, who held comfortably to go one set up.
Every time the Russian threatened to break, the sixth seed stepped up her game.
A spectacular cross-court forehand saw Sharapova thwarted when she had break point in the first game of the second set.
Li then went on to break her opponent twice on her way to a convincing 6-2 6-2 victory.