Istomin, ranked 46, subdued a spirited challenge from the 50th-ranked Matosevic to win the second singles rubber 6-4, 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-4 on the indoor red clay surface.

Bernard Tomic, the highest-ranked player in the tie at 43, got Australia off to a winning start by beating Farrukh Dustov, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, 6-4 in the opening rubber.

Davis Cup warhorse Lleyton Hewitt will team with Matt Ebden in a pivotal doubles rubber against Istomin and Dustov on Saturday.

Australian captain Pat Rafter surprised observers by giving the unproven Matosevic the nod over Hewitt for the opening day singles, despite the former world number one's 52-16 record in Davis Cup competition.

"Marinko played by far his best Davis Cup match. He was very, very good against a very solid player," Rafter said.

"All in all it was a really good day.

"It would have been great to be up 2-0 but one-all is not a bad scoreline and pushing Istomin the way he did was really good.

"We didn't want to take it out of Lleyton today, he's got a big match tomorrow and that match is really important."

The winner of the tie will progress to the World Group playoffs in September.