The transition from clay to grass is one of the most abrupt on the tennis calendar. As a viewer, segueing from grueling, extended rallies into short, sharp points can feel like downing a cool, refreshing drink. It's a bit less simple for players.

"It's the toughest surface to adjust to because the season is so short," Coco Gauff said ahead of the Rothesay International, where she is the No.5 seed this week. "You'd better get it together quick, or you're not going to get it together 'til next year."

Ons Jabeur shared similar thoughts. 

"You need a couple of days adjusting to the bounce," the No.4 seed said. "You need a lot of hard training to adapt to the rhythm of the grass. Coming from clay, where the bounce is very slow, doesn't help. It's tough to play on grass without having a lot of matches, at least for me."

Players need to adapt quickly. But becoming a top performer on grass is also a long game. Few had access to grass courts growing up. For most, their first taste of it came at junior tournaments. It wasn't always a pleasant experience, even for future Wimbledon stars.

Jabeur's first tour-level grass match was at the 2012 London Olympic Games, and she says she was "like a zombie" during her three-set first-round loss to Sabine Lisicki. 

Even last year's Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina needed time before she felt comfortable. She lost in the first round in both of her Wimbledon junior appearances, but credits coach Stefano Vukov for his insistence that she had potential anyway.

Rybakina is a quick learner. In her first professional grass-court tournament, she made it to the semifinals of 's-Hertogenbosch 2019 as a qualifier. Last year, in her eighth professional grass-court tournament, she won her first major title.

Which is more important: movement or strokes?

When No.3 seed Jessica Pegula breaks down a grass-court draw, she first looks at players' history on the surface -- and then at how much power they possess.

"Big servers, that's always something you look at," she said. "Grass is one of those surfaces where there's usually people who do distinctly well and like playing on it, and people who don't. It makes it easier than other tournaments to dissect who's going to do well."

Rybakina's experience from her junior days is a testament that mere power isn't enough for true comfort on grass. The tall Kazakh player realized that mastering the quick footwork and deep knee-bends was just as crucial.

"It's a lot about the movement," Rybakina said. "You need to stay very low on the legs. The ball is not really coming to you, you need to take the ball earlier."

Wild card Harriet Dart, fresh off back-to-back quarterfinals in Nottingham and Birmingham, is as close as the tour gets to a lifelong grass-court expert. She has pictures of herself at the age of 12 hitting on the grass courts of her local club, the Cumberland in North London, and she's been playing tournaments on it since 14. She agrees that the movement is key, but emphasizes the importance of the strokes, too.

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"You have to very much take care of the basics -- your serve and your returns," she said. "A couple of things to add in like slice a bit more, but most importantly take care of the things you can control.

"You have to let the court do the work for you."

 Pegula also believes grass-court tennis can be simplified.

"Serve really well," she said. "The slice works well. Move in well. All those things can elevate your game."

Navigating the complexities of a grass court

Over the years, Pegula has been consistently told her flat-hitting style suits the surface. Yet Wimbledon remains the only major at which she is hasn't made the quarterfinals.

"I always feel I start getting used to it when I'm out of Wimbledon and I'm done," she said. "I'm like, 'Wait, I was just starting to get the hang of it.'"

Pegula pinpoints the root of her discomfort as the knee injury she suffered on her Wimbledon qualifying debut in 2013. It forced her to retire in the first round against Cagla Buyukakcay, and she spent the rest of the season trying to diagnose the issue. Knee surgery eventually sidelined her for most of 2014.

"I think that [memory] always puts a little hesitancy into my game, into my movement and changing direction," Pegula said. "You just have to get over it by playing on it and just trusting yourself. Getting your footwork a bit better. Doing a lot of drills where you keep your feet moving. And mentally, you have to let it go. It was a long time ago. It slowed me down for a couple of years, but I'm moving much better now."

Gauff sees her experience as the flipside of that. Her run to the 2019 fourth round as a 15-year-old qualifier made an indelible impact on Wimbledon history.

"Because I started so young, all those mental things about maybe getting hurt aren't in my head," Gauff said. "There was no adjustment period. I just rocked up to it."

But even Gauff admits that on some levels, she's still wrestling with grass -- a subtle reminder that this surface continues to pose a unique puzzle for even the top players in the world.