XIA Jiaping and Wang Shi-ting defend their men's and women's singles titles against the strongest field ever assembled for the Salem Asian Championships, which starts today at Victoria Park. Xia, China's top-ranked player and seeded number one this week, has a first-round bye and comes up against either Saudi player Othman-Saleh Elezi or Hong Kong's Bill Young in the second round. Taiwan's Wang, winner of the Digital Hong Kong Open in September, has also received a first-round bye as the top seed and awaits either Hong Kong's Jacklyn Fu or Kazakhstan's Irina Selutina in the second round. The tournament is strengthened this year by the presence of players from the former Soviet republics and the Middle East, compared to previous years when it was limited to players from Southeast Asia and East Asia and the sub-continent. Hong Kong's top woman player Willy Chan Lee has a tough opening round match against South Korean Choi Yu-yeon. Chan tuned up for the tournament with an excellent performance in last week's US$50,000 event in Jakarta when she reached the main draw via three qualifying matches. Davis Cup players Colin Grant, Pang Lui, Rolf Harrison and Murray Bennetto will take part in the men's singles competition, which also includes Japan's world number 331 Yasufumi Yamamoto, seeded second, and former Asian champion Chang Eui-jong, of South Korea, the fifth-seed. Indonesia's Benny Wijaya, who is expected to be in Indonesia's Davis Cup squad to face Hong Kong next year, is seeded fourth.