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No. 1 seed Simona Halep of Romania weathered a stern challenge from Italian wildcard Jasmine Paolini to win her opening match 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome.

Facing a top-10 opponent for just the second time in her career, the 24-year-old challenger took a 2-0 lead with an early break before struggling with her own serve. Halep broke Paolini four consecutive times to finish the first set.

Another early break spotted Paolini a 2-1 edge in the second set, but Halep again reeled off four straight breaks to advance in one hour and 23 minutes.

"I was a little bit tight at the beginning," Halep said. "Actually, the whole match it was a little bit difficult to get the rhythm and to get relaxed. But the first match of the tournament is always tough and she played really well.

"Her forehand was strong but so was the backhand. It was tough to find out what to do because we had never played before. But I'm happy I could win the match. It was a very tough one."

Seven double faults hurt Paolini's upset chances against the two-time Grand Slam winner and World No. 2. Halep converted eight of her 10 break points.

Halep's third-round opponent will be Ukraine's Dayana Yastremska, who rallied for a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over Amanda Anisimova.

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova began her title defense Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-3 win against fellow Czech Barbora Strycova. The second-seeded Pliskova struck 26 winners, won 71 percent of her service points and broke Strycova four times during the one-hour, 15-minute match.

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

Up next for Pliskova is Russia's Anna Blinkova, who outlasted Spanish qualifier Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov earlier in the day, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4).

Two-time Rome champion and No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine defeated Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 7-6 (4) in her first appearance since the coronavirus hiatus.

Other seeded winners Wednesday included No. 10 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and No. 11 Elise Mertens of Belgium. Montenegro's Danka Kovinic upset No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-3, 6-1. Venus Williams was eliminated by Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 7-6 (7), 6-2.

--Field Level Media

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