(Reuters) - Borna Coric put 2018 champions Croatia on course for a second successive appearance in the Davis Cup final with a comfortable 6-4 6-3 semi-final win over Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis in Malaga, Spain on Friday for a 1-0 lead.
Croatia, who were beaten by the Russian Tennis Federation in the 2021 title clash, can now secure a meeting with either Italy or Canada in Sunday's final if former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic gets past Alex De Minaur in the second singles rubber.
Australia are trying to reach their first final since 2003 -- when they won their 28th title -- and captain Lleyton Hewitt selected Kokkinakis for the opening contest in place of Jordan Thompson, who played against the Netherlands in the quarters.
But despite an encouraging start, the 26-year-old came undone towards the end of a tight opening set as Coric went up 5-4 and grabbed the only break of the set to take the early advantage in the contest.
Coric, who beat Kokkinakis in their only previous meeting in Tokyo this year, raised his level in the next set and broke for a 4-2 lead after which he never looked back as the two-times champions went ahead in the tie.
De Minaur will be aiming to ensure that Australia avoid falling in the semi-finals yet again, with the team losing at this stage in 2006, 2015 and 2017 previously.
But a victory will mean team mates Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell face Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in a rematch of their Wimbledon doubles final this year, where the Australian duo emerged triumphant in five sets.
Italy and Canada will contest the second semi-final on Saturday.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)