Displaying all the qualities that have taken her to the pinnacle of the women's game, Kerber completed a 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-4 victory in style, firing a forehand down the line to set up a meeting with fellow Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova.
"Kiki was playing very well today, especially in the first set. I was trying to come back in the second," Kerber said. "The first match is always tough. But I'm happy to be back in China and to have won my first match here.
"I was trying to play more aggressive, more my tennis, moving a little bit better."
Kerber started brightly enough, seamlessly transitioning from defense to attack to break in the opening game. However, it was soon apparent that Mladenovic would not roll over, drawing level and even holding a set point as the top seed struggled to force a tie-break.
Once there, Mladenovic underlined her threat by unleashing a big forehand to bring up two more opportunities, taking the set when Kerber found the net.
This prompted Kerber to usher on coach Torben Beltz at the changeover. His pep talk produced the desired effect, the German upping the ante and thumping return down line to open up a 2-0 lead. With temperatures soaring, and an opponent eager to drag her into a series of energy-sapping baseline exchanges, Mladenovic looked in danger of wilting.
Yet as the contest headed into a deciding set, the Frenchwoman dug deep, posing Kerber further questions with her attacking intent. Ultimately, the consistency from Kerber, who finished with just 25 errors, proved decisive as she set up a rematch with Kvitova.
Kerber saw off Kvitova in two tight sets en route to the US Open title and expects another testing encounter. "It will be a completely different match. We played a lot of matches in the past, also really close ones," she added when asked by the press about the Czech.
"It's always a tough battle against Petra. I'm looking forward. I mean, here we have a new tournament, a new day tomorrow. I have to play better than today, for sure. I will try my best to go out there to win the match. But I will have to play my one of my best tennis tomorrow against her."