Nearly 200 girls began the weeklong process of playing singles and doubles matches at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College on Saturday morning. The evening before gave them a chance to get settled into their surroundings and catch up with friends from near and far.

“It’s definitely big,” said Olivia Sears. “It’s one of the biggest tournaments all year long, and it’s my first time here. So I’m just really excited and happy that I got into this tournament, and I’m just ready to compete.”

Sears, from Indiana, was one of several players hanging out after Friday’s players’ meeting enjoying watermelon provided by tournament referee Robert Sasseville. Joining her was Ananya Annapantula, a 13-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio.

“It’s an honor because it’s such a big tournament, so I’m excited to play,” Annapantula said. “I have the same intentions going into this one. I come in just wanting to celebrate what I’ve done in practice, so I’m just excited to come here and play against the competition that’s here.”

Sears and Annapantula said they have certain players they see throughout the year at various tournaments and knowing someone at an event can be helpful when the pressures of competing get overwhelming.

“I feel like it definitely helps to be able to relieve some of the stress,” Sears said. “Being able to just hang out and joke around with your friends, it reminds you it’s not all about tennis and having those friendships definitely helps.”

At the players’ meeting in the auditorium of Berry College’s McAllister Hall, the competitors and their parents were officially welcomed to Rome by tournament, Berry and city officials and reminded of the achievement they’ve accomplished by getting to the national championships.

“You’ve worked hard all year, and your efforts and consistent results have gotten you here,” said Eva Marie McCravy, competition coordinator for USTA Georgia and a chair umpire for the tournament.

Allison Harris came to Rome from North Carolina with her friend and doubles partner Carolina Williams.

“I’m very excited to be here. I’ve been to Rome before, for a few different tournaments last year, and I think it’s very pretty here,” Harris said. “I like the campus. I’ve been around Berry College before. And of course there are so many courts here and they’re so nice.”

The Rome Tennis Center boasts 52 full-sized courts and is the largest single-surface facility in the country. This Girls’ 14 Hardcourt National Championships, the second in a row for the RTC, is the latest in a long tradition that has seen several of the country’s top female players compete in past events.

And, just like them, this year’s players gathered for a group photo as veteran professional photographer gathered all of the players outside McAllister Hall on Friday evening to get the shot that will join the others.

Matches continue through Saturday at the Rome Tennis Center. The public is invited and there is no admission.