Nadal's straight-sets dismantling of Federer means the Spaniard will take on Wawrinka in tomorrow's Australian Open final, one win away from a 14th grand slam crown and with a 12-0 record over the Swiss. It's the stuff of nightmares.
Loading article content
After the hyperbole, some realism. The 33rd meeting between Nadal and Federer had been anticipated more keenly than most of their recent meetings, thanks in no small part to the former world No.1's wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray on his way to the last four.
His performance against Murray suggested the influence of Stefan Edberg, who joined his coaching team at the turn of the year, was already working and might give him a chance against Nadal, even if he had not beaten him in a grand slam since Wimbledon in 2007.
But from the moment Nadal took the first set, 7-4 on the tiebreak, there was a sense of inevitability about what was to follow and, if it didn't quite dampen the atmosphere inside the Rod Laver Arena, it left few people doubting the likely result.
For all Federer's endeavour to move forward, Nadal was a rock, resistant to everything thrown at him and when he got the chance to attack, utterly ruthless.
Absent here a year ago as he continued to recover from a knee injury, Nadal has had to cope with a raw blister since his last-16 encounter with Kei Nishikori, which yielded its own Twitter account within hours of showing its bright red colour.
But it seems that whatever life levels at Nadal, he is able to handle it and Federer admitted that he was almost at a loss in his attempts to get the better of his old foe, who celebrated his 23rd victory in their rivalry with a raised fist and a hearty cry of "vamos".
"It's totally different playing Rafa over anybody else," Federer said. "Playing Murray or Rafa is day and night. It's not because of the level necessarily, but it's just every point is played in a completely different fashion and I have to totally change my game."
That, in a nutshell, is Federer's problem against Nadal and always has been. He can't simply play his game and hope to win, while the Spaniard's natural game fits perfectly against the Swiss's style.
Federer was nevertheless encouraged by his performances over the fortnight, showing that at 32, almost pensionable age in tennis, he remains a threat when things are going well, even if he will fall to No.8 next week - his lowest ranking for 12 years - and will be overtaken by Wawrinka as Swiss No.1.
But while matching Nadal physically and mentally over the best of five sets remains a challenge very few are up to, Federer is fully fit again and he will take solace in the fact that it took the world No.1 to beat him.
That should give him belief that he can make another good run at one of the grand slams - it seems Wimbledon will be his best chance - and the benefits of his work with Edberg will probably become clear in a few months' time.
Nadal, meanwhile, shows no sign of slowing down and his relentless search for more grand slam titles goes on apace. Victory over Wawrinka tomorrow would take him alongside Pete Sampras on 14 and the great American, handily, will be presenting the trophy to the winner.
Having ruined the chances of one Swiss, Nadal now takes on Wawrinka, who has beaten Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych here this week and is playing the tennis of his life, but who has never even won a set in 12 meetings with Nadal.
That doesn't bode well for his chances but Nadal, ever cautious and respectful, knows that with nothing to lose, Wawrinka will be dangerous, if he can handle the occasion in his first grand slam final.
"I saw him play against Novak [Djokovic], I saw him play against [Tomas] Berdych and he's playing great," Nadal said. "He's serving unbelievable. He's hitting the ball very strong from the baseline. I know it will be a very, very tough match."
Few people buy it, though. Nadal is the overwhelming favourite and will most likely be collecting the trophy tomorrow. Should he do so, he will be just three grand slams behind Federer and with the French Open next, where he has lost only once in nine years, the gap could be just two come Wimbledon.