The fourth seed prevailed 7-5, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes, with the American vocal throughout and frustrated with her patchy performance.
“I’m obviously not happy with the way I played,” said Kenin, who made 27 unforced errors. “Being the first round, there were nerves for me but I’m happy to get through.”
The 22-year-old’s return to the scene of her stunning breakthrough Grand Slam title, where she beat Garbine Muguruza in three sets, has been rocky after losing in the warm-up Yarra Valley Classic in the quarter-finals to the Spaniard.
She left the court then in tears and later declared she was troubled by a left groin injury, which she said might have been attributed to the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival in Australia.
Moscow-born Kenin, playing with the roof open on Rod Laver Arena, appeared to move freely but struggled against the gritty Australian during a tight first set marked by long baseline rallies.
She eventually shrugged off the 23-year-old Inglis, who has not won a Grand Slam match in four attempts.
Kenin next plays Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova or in-form Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, who was runner-up in the warm-up Gippsland Trophy.
Serena, Osaka off to flying starts
Yesterday, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka wasted little time in breezing into the second round.
Japan’s Osaka, the third seed, struck the first serve on Rod Laver Arena against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the women’s singles and strode to touch racquets with her opponent at the net just 68 minutes later after a 6-1, 6-2 victory.
“I was really nervous coming into this match. I just wanted to play well,” Osaka told a smattering of spectators on the socially-distanced centre court. She will face France’s Caroline Garcia in the second round.
Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in style with a 6-1, 6-1 romp past Germany’s Laura Siegemund in 56 minutes.
“This was a good start, it was vintage Serena,” said the 39-year-old, playing an unparallelled 100th match at the tournament and turning heads by sporting a vivid, one-legged catsuit.
She will play Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic in the second round.
But 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber was the first significant casualty, the 23rd seeded German losing 6-0, 6-4 to 63rd ranked American Bernada Pera on Margaret Court Arena.
The tournament is known as the “Happy Slam” for its convivial atmosphere but the pandemic has overshadowed the event this year with fewer spectators, mandatory mask-wearing and fans unable to circulate freely around the grounds.
Australia has largely contained the virus, but officials are desperate to avoid further problems from COVID-19.
Preparations had to be hastily rearranged as late as last Wednesday when a coronavirus case at a tournament hotel - the city’s first local infection in 28 days - forced a suspension of play.
Hundreds of players and officials were tested and all were negative.
While Kerber exited early, there were no problems for the 2014 men’s champion, Stan Wawrinka, as he reached the second round for a 16th straight time with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win against Portugal’s Paulo Sousa.
“It’s always amazing and special to come back here. Winning my first Grand Slam was something unbelievable, amazing memories,” said the 35-year-old Swiss 17th seed.
Milos Raonic, the 14th seed from Canada also enjoyed serene progress through to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Federico Coria of Argentina.
But Gael Monfils, the French 10th seed, is out after being stunned 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 by Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, the world number 86, in three hours and 46 minutes.
Raonic - who reached the semi-final at Melbourne Park in 2016 and the last eight a year ago, before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic - next plays Corentin Moutet of France.
Top women’s seed Ashleigh Barty, defending champion Sofia Kenin and 20-time men’s singles Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal all to begin their challenge for this year’s Australian Open today.