6-2, 6-7 (2), but claimed that Fognini shouted at him while trying to volley during the 11th game of the final set.
Federer, who had a bye in the opening round, had only played in the Laver Cup since his shock loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the US Open and was content with a 6-2 7-6 (7-5) success against his Spanish opponent.
"I've never had that in a match and I've played 800-odd matches on the tour", Murray said in a post-match news conference. "To play him again in the same circumstances basically I knew could be unsafe, and that's why I'm very pleased how I was able to control the match".
And the pattern continued into the second set, with Zverev battling to hold, but Tsitsipas ripping through the German's first service game with passes and lobs to break for 2-1. "He then told, 'Stop looking at me, what are you looking at me for?'" Murray explained afterwards.
Federer and Ramos-Vinolas have history, as the two faced off during the 2015 Shanghai Masters with Ramos-Vinolas pulling the upset victory in a match that still sits with Federer almost four years later.
Fognini went on to take the match in a tiebreaker 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (2).
But Murray has still made great progress in China, with seven matches played in three weeks. Having defeated Federer already in his career, the 21-year-old Greek tennis God came close to laying vengeance on the Austrian.
Murray had two chances to serve out for the biggest win of his comeback - at 5-4 and 6-5 in the decider - but was unable to take either opportunity.
The 56th-ranked Londero surged into a firstset lead but Murray, who said he struggled initially with his timing and felt sluggish, fought back to force a deciding set.