And he duly finished a distant third as American David Oliver scorched to victory over the 110m hurdles in a world leading 12.99 seconds.
The former Olympic champion and world record holder is no longer the athlete that dominated his discipline before he was struck down with an Achilles injury at the Beijing Games.
He started well but faded quickly, Oliver finishing nearly five metres clear of second placed Shi Dongpeng as Liu completed the podium.
"My foot was definitely not well," said Liu, who clocked 13.40. "For me it was quite a challenge. Competition relies on training, systematic, intensive and high quality training. But I have had none."
World champion Ryan Brathwaite, the surprise winner in Berlin last year, continued his disappointing start to the season, clattering a succession of hurdles and failing to complete the race.
Ethiopia's Sentayehu Ejigu clocked a personal best, meeting record and world leading time as she sprinted clear to win the women's 5000m in 14.30.96 while Kenya’s Augustine Choge just held off fast-finishing team-mate Asbel Kiprop to won the men’s 1500m in a world-leading 3.32.20.
Australian world champion Steve Hooker looked rusty after a six week break.
He failed to clear a normally routine 5.70 metres as Germany’s Malte Mohr won the men’s pole vault.
Great Britain’s Steve Lewis, who has spent the winter training with close friend Hooker, was eliminated after three failures at 5.50m - finishing seventh overall.
Norway's Andreas Thorkildsen's 86.11 metre third round effort was enough to secure the Olympic and world champion the men's javelin while Czech throwers Petr Frydrych and Vitezslav Vesely were just behind.
Australia's Fabrice Lapierre jumped a season's best 8.30m to win the men's long jump by a comfortable 12 centimetre margin over American Dwight Phillips.