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The very next week, Li battled her way through qualifying into the WTA event at Guangzhou (a Tier IV event at the time, though since has been upgraded to Tier III), then beat Vera Dushevina, Jelena Janković, Kristina Brandi, and Li Ting in the main draw to reach the final, where she overcame Martina Suchá to win her first WTA Tour title.
By doing so, Li became the first Chinese tennis player to win a WTA event.
But she then played only one more match (a loss to Zuzana Ondrášková in the ,000 event at Dinan, France that April), followed by a lengthy absence from the circuit for the next 25 months.
Sources vary as to the causes of this absence, the Chinese media mostly cited the conflict between her and the China's National Tennis Team's administration and coaching staff.
There, she defeated Antonella Serra Zanetti, Marta Domachowska, and Nicole Pratt before losing in the deciding-set tie-break after a very close second-round main-draw tussle against newly crowned US Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, during which she held match points against Kuznetsova.
The Russian afterwards praised her Chinese opponent, stating that she had felt as though she was up against a top-5 player.
Li retired from professional tennis on 19 September 2014.
In early February, she reached the quarterfinals at Hyderabad and qualified for Doha where she was narrowly beaten by Patty Schnyder in the first round of the main draw.
In May 2004, Li returned to competition after having not played since 2002.
Although she was unranked, she won 26 successive matches to notch three further ,000 tournament wins and another ,000 title, increasing her career singles title count to 18, only to have her winning streak finally snapped by Evgenia Linetskaya in the semifinal of the ,000 Bronx tournament that August.
On the back of the ranking points accrued through this result, on 4 October 2004, she broke into the WTA top 100 for the first time.
To cap off her most successful year as a singles player yet, she competed in two ,000 ITF tournaments at Shenzhen, winning the first outright to bring her the 19th ITF singles title and 20th overall singles title of her career, but losing in the quarterfinals of the second to lower-ranked country-woman Yan Zi. 80 by the close of the year, a year in which she won 51 singles matches and lost just four.
In 2000, she won 52 singles matches on the ITF circuit, more than any other player, notching another eight tournament titles, including one at the $50,000 level, two at $25,000, and a run of four $10,000 tournament wins in March and April.