Melbourne VIC, Australia, 11 December 2016 | Matt Trollope

Approaching the summer in a different position to previous years, Sam Groth is nonetheless confident of an Australian Open main draw berth in January 2017.

The Victorian, who this time last year was on the cusp of the top 50, is the second seed at next week’s Australian Open Play-off, currently ranked 181st and on the road back after a frustrating 2016.

Heading the draw is No.1 seed Andrew Whittington, ranked No.170 after a career-best year during which he won six ITF Futures titles and reached the Gimcheon Challenger final in Korea.

Whittington opens against teenager Max Purcell, and if the seedings hold he would meet No,5 seed John-Patrick Smith in the quarterfinals.

> view the Australian Open Play-off draw

For Groth, some encouraging results in the second half of the year – including the ATP Challenger title in Las Vegas – have bolstered his confidence.

“Obviously it’s a different set-up to what I’ve had the past couple of years because I’ve already been direct entry (into the Australian Open),” said Groth, who last contested the wildcard play-off four years ago.

“But I’ve had a couple of good weeks of training and it’s a good opportunity to secure a berth in the Australian Open.

“It was a tough year. I missed the off-season (leading into 2016) with my foot surgery and I came in sort of chasing my tail a bit, and my ranking was dropping. I had a lot of goals that I was chasing and I didn’t really have a chance to settle into the year. Then I changed coaches – I started with Joe Sirianni after the Davis Cup tie in Sydney and whenever you change situation it takes a few weeks (to adjust).

“But I won a Challenger in Vegas, and I’ve only won four in my career, so that was a great week for me, and I got my ranking back to a respectable spot (he was ranked as low as No.272 in September).

“Coming into 2017 it’s something I can really build on, because especially for the first six months of the year I’ve basically got nothing to defend.”

Groth opens his Play-off campaign against left-hander Dayne Kelly, and should he progress he would take on the winner of the match between teenage whiz Alex De Minaur and 22-year-old sixth seed Chris O’Connell.

Aussie young guns are a prominent feature in the draw; another is Omar Jasika, the 2014 US Open junior champion who has drawn third seed Marinko Matosevic in the first round.

Also lining up are 21-year-old No.8 seed Blake Mott – who faces 20-year-old Harry Bourchier – and No.4 seed Marc Polmans, the 19-year-old Victorian who has enjoyed a stellar 2016 season.

Polmans, who won four ITF Futures titles this year among nine pro finals and who is on the brink of a top-200 ranking, faces Scott Jones, the winner of the 18/u Australian Championships.

The Play-off’s best-of-five set format of the Play-off is something Groth thinks will stand in his favour.

“Best-of-five sets is definitely a completely different scenario – you’ve got to learn to pace yourself over that time,” he said.

“I’ve played a lot of big five-set matches in a lot of high-pressure environments. There’s a few other guys who’ve been in that situation – obviously Marinko has done it a lot before.

“But a lot of the other guys haven’t. So for me I feel like it’s a bonus that I’ve got that experience.”

The men’s event kicks off at Melbourne Park on Monday 12 December.

For more information visit the December Showdown tournament page.