ROME, Italy - No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova's quest for a Roman repeat remained on track at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia with an efficient 6-4, 6-3 third-round defeat of qualifier Anna Blinkova in one hour and 18 minutes.
The Czech, who successfully defended a title for the first time in her career in Brisbane this January, is bidding to do so again this week, and today's result sees her into the quarterfinals in the Italian capital for the third time in total. Having previously defeated Blinkova 6-0, 6-2 in their only previous meeting, in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open - the Russian's Grand Slam debut - Pliskova would have a tougher time today, but 24 winners to 23 unforced errors and an 81% winning percentage behind her first serve ultimately saw her over the line.
Pliskova got off to something of a slow start, committing two double faults in the opening game - an opportunity Blinkova seized with relish, converting break point with a fizzing backhand winner. But the 22-year-old was unable to consolidate, repeatedly going wide on her down-the-line attempts to hand the advantage back with an exchange of breaks.
Thereafter, both players settled into a groove on serve; Blinkova found some success in holding Pliskova at bay with a willingness to switch up her court patterns, but more frequently the former World No.1's weight of shot would put her on the front foot in rallies.
As the set drew on, Pliskova's accuracy on return increased; though Blinkova staved off a break point in the eighth game, she would not be able to escape danger when serving to stay in the set. Searing Pliskova groundstrokes off each wing put her up in the game, and a pair of cheap Blinkova errors sealed an untimely break to love for the World No.65.
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Pliskova warmed to her task as the second set got under way, remaining impassive but ruthless even as her younger opponent's exhortation levels rose. New Haven 125K champion Blinkova found her finest flurry of winners at the start of the set, but couldn't sustain that level; instead, it was Pliskova who slotted a perfect backhand down the line to break for 3-1. It was that wing that shone again for the 28-year-old two games later, with a pair of brilliant inside-out returns paving the way to a 5-1 double break.
Since the opening game, Pliskova had been impregnable on serve, and had not needed to face a break point - but, serving for the match and seemingly in control at 30-0, the double faults returned. A pair of them took her tally to five and threw Blinkova a lifeline, which the 2015 Wimbledon junior finalist seized with a superb deep return.
However, insurance break in hand, Pliskova made no mistake when next stepping up to the line, closing out the win with a businesslike love hold to set up a quarterfinal date against either No.11 seed Elise Mertens or another qualifier, Danka Kovinic.