The fifth seed, who enjoyed a bye in the first round, dropped her first service game and found herself 2-0 down before taking five games in a row. She went on to win the set 6-3.
Safarova suffered a similar fate in the second and final set as Li again made a winning streak to take her from 0-1 to 5-1. The Czech fought her way back in the next three games before Li finally held to win 6-3 6-4.
Current French Open champion Li was knocked out in the third round of last year’s competition.