The Belarusian crushed Kenin with a succession of powerful services and closed out the first set with an ace after just 23 minutes. The 25-year-old broke serve twice more in the second set, while Kenin – playing with her bandaged left thigh – was unable to react.
Sabalenka sealed the encounter with another unreturned serve and scored a draw against Magdalena Frech or Katie Boulter in the next round.
All eight of the world’s top eight are taking part in this year’s women’s draw, with runner-up Iga Swiatek facing Spain’s Sara Sorribes.
The China Open is being held for the first time since 2019 after Beijing ended its isolationist policies of zero COVID. The women’s tournament is also in action for the first time since the world governing body ended a boycott of China this year. The embargo was declared after Chinese player Peng Shuai made accusations of sexual assault against a senior government official.