On a breezy night at Rod Laver Arena, the 2009 champion notched his sixth straight win in Grand Slams over the Swiss, stunning his opponent with a master-class of clean hitting to book a title-decider with Stanislas Wawrinka.
Dominating Federer in the first set tiebreak, the Spaniard broke twice to charge through the second, and captured the decisive break in the third at 3-3 when his opponent blasted into the net-cord and the deflection sailed long.
Hitting winners from all corners, Nadal raised two match-points as Federer served to stay in the match and sealed it on the second when the shell-shocked Swiss shanked a forehand long.
Nadal punched his left fist into the night sky and roared in triumph while a demoralised Federer gave a cursory wave before trudging to the exit.
“It was a tough match, we had some big rallies at the end,” said Nadal. “He was attacking and I resisted really well. He was trying to take the ball early.”
“I never thought about having 14 (Slams), the only thing I can swear is that I’m going to try my best,” the 13-times Grand Slam champion said of his prospects for the final.
“Playing with Roger gives me a very special feeling,” said Nadal. “He is a great champion and it’s an honour to be on the court with him.”
“I think Rafa did a good job of keeping the pressure on me,” said Federer. “I might have gotten a little tired, maybe in the third set, but overall I’m very happy.
“Rafa played well and he played solid, so I don’t have crazy regrets tonight other than maybe not having created more opportunities for myself. Rafa was his usual self, what I kind of expected.”
The lop-sided result will re-fuel the debate as to the greatest player of all time, with Nadal extending his head-to-head dominance over Federer to 23-10, and thrashing him on a hardcourt, the most democratic of surfaces.
A runaway victory seemed an absurd notion early, as the pair parried and probed in the opening games.
Nadal was impenetrable on serve and demanded Federer meet him in a tie-break where the Swiss promptly stumbled.
Throwing his opponent from side to side, the Spaniard played it completely on his terms, roaring to a 5-1 lead and closing the set out when Federer sent an increasingly shaky backhand sailing past the baseline.
Frustrated by Nadal’s stifling consistency, Federer was further agitated after the Spaniard left the court between sets and then had treatment on his blistered hand at the first change of ends.
Federer was forced to defend three break points at 2-1 and survived only by an inch shown up on the ‘Hawk-eye’ technology after a successful challenge on a line call.
An outrageous cross-court passing shot steered from a seemingly impossible angle gave Nadal another look at Federer’s serve at 3-2 and he smacked an inside-out forehand to leave Federer flat-footed, broken and in deep trouble.
Serving for the set, Nadal wobbled to 0-30, but closed it out with four straight points.
An unkind net-cord put Federer on the rack at 15-40 again on serve, and he was unable to breach it with another backhand to slump to an early break in the third game.
Against all logic and reason, Nadal shanked a forehand to give up two break points and then fired another just past the baseline to allow Federer to break back.
Having been marginally off all night, Federer flirted with the net-cord again and was broken to 4-3.
Smelling blood, Nadal pounced as the teetering Swiss served to stay in the match, closing out the contest with a dizzying array of winners.
In women’s doubles, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci of Italy produced a great escape as they beat Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4 3-6 7-5 to retain the title.
The Russian third seeds led 5-2 in the decider before Errani and Vinci roared back to clinch their fourth Grand Slam title and retain their No. 1 ranking.
Victory for Makarova and Vesnina would have lifted them to top spot and when they broke twice to lead 5-2 in the final set, they looked set for the title.
But the Italians stayed strong and won five straight games, clinching victory on their second match point when Vinci fired a forehand return winner down the line.