After breaking early, he held the advantage to level the match.
A fifth match point arrived though and as Nadal swung a backhand over the baseline Federer pumped his arms above his head to celebrate only his fourth grand slam win over the Spaniard he has battled around the world for 15 years.
"He played really well".
The soon-to-be 38-year-old produced a superb performance to see off old adversary Nadal 7-6 1-6 6-3 6-4 in a semi-final packed with excitement and emotion. But the Spaniard proved incredibly tough in the latter stages, and made Federer earn every single point towards the end. "For me personally I feel like he just wants to be liked so much that I just can't stand him".
The look on Federer's face after the challenge said it all with the ball clearly in.
Djokovic won the first set 6-2. Nadal could not get back on serve and Federer won 6-3 to get within one set of the final.
It is the first match between the rivals at the All England Club since their classic five-set final in 2008.
How excited, then, were the spectators for the rematch?
Djokovic sarcastically encouraged fans to get louder after he dropped the second set of his 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 semifinal victory against Bautista Agut.
Quickly, that greeting was justified. The capacity crowd at Centre Court showered both Nadal and Federer with cheers and a standing ovation that lasted for several minutes. Federer amassed 10 break points, and though he succeeded on just two, that was enough, with the last, vital conversion making it 2-1 in the fourth set.
Djokovic, meanwhile, will be looking to add another Wimbledon title to the Australian and US Open crowns he already holds.
"I think that's why I was able to produce a good result [against Nadal]", said Federer, who will play for a record-extending 21st grand slam triumph in his 12th Wimbledon showdown, another record-extender.
There was something of an "Anything you can do, I can do, too" vibe to Friday's proceedings.
On Friday, Federer beat Nadal in four sets. He was managing his nerves in the first set but later on he established himself and started to play better. Federer and Nadal were to play next on Centre Court.
However, the Swiss was delighted to win that final game which featured three deuces and a break point before he finally ended a potential Nadal fightback on his fifth match point. "He plays with such velocity and spins and everything, you're not always sure you're going to connect the right way".
Federer is an eight-time Wimbledon champion, while Nadal has won two titles at the All England Club.
Federer is five above Djokovic on 20, but also five years older, meaning time is on the Serbian's side.
"From that standpoint I can go into that match very confident".
"It will be hard to see it again but we are not done".
"I'm just relieved it's all over, but it's definitely going to go down as one of my favourite matches to look back at; because it's Rafa, it's at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather".
Djokovic was broken once in the second set, allowing Bautista Agut to even the score.