ROME, Italy - Defending champion Karolina Pliskova made a strong start to her Internazionale BNL d’Italia campaign, defeating fellow Czech player Barbora Strycova in straight sets to reach the third round. 

Big-hitting Pliskova outgunned her opponent and controlled the rallies with her forehand as she struck 26 winners and broke Strycova four times en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win in just over an hour and 15 minutes.

Read more: Halep overcomes Paolini challenge in Rome

“It was not an easy job, but I thought I played quite good today,” Pliskova told after the match. “I was feeling the ball, I was serving quite well, and in the important moments I just went for it. So it paid off.”

The No.2 seed arrived in Rome as the defending champion, but hoping to return to her winning ways. Pliskova started the year with a victory in Brisbane, her 16th career title, but has since struggled to record back-to-back victories after leaving Australia.

2020 Rome Highlights: Pliskova bests Strycova

Pliskova will surely be pleased with her solid performance in the second round, where she dropped serve only once and won 71% of her service points.  

“I like it here, and ever since I changed my feelings about Rome last year I think the conditions here can be quite good [for me],” Pliskova said.

“I thought the court was actually quite fast… And because it’s so hot now, even more than in April when the tournament normally is, I think it can be good for me.”

Read more: Champions Corner: Karolina Pliskova flips the script in Rome: 'It's a miracle for me'

Taking on Strycova for the sixth time in her career, Pliskova has her countrywoman under pressure from the start on Stadio Pietrangeli. She returned deep down the middle of the court with her flat groundstrokes, and gave Strycova no angles to work with as she broke to take a 3-2 lead in the first set. Pliskova closed it out with another break as she took the opening set, 6-3. 

A frustrated Strycova hit the reset button in the second set, and kept herself within touching distance of the No.2 seed. She applied the pressure to make inroads on the Pliskova serve, and broke back at 4-3 to extend her stay in the contest. But her comeback was short-lived as Pliskova raised her level, breaking once more and closing out the victory in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. 

Photo Gallery: In pictures: The story of Rome 2020

Pliskova will take on Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova in the next round as she seeks her second quarterfinal of the year. Blinkova took down fellow qualifier Aliona Bolsova in three sets, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) earlier in the day to advance.

“It’s going to be for sure challenging,” Pliskova said. “I think she’s going for her shots as well, she’s playing a little bit of a similar game as me. I have to serve well, play my game, and that way I think I can beat her.”