Nadal aimed to hit back immediately when the Swiss double-faulted to set up two break points, but after missing out on the first chance, a 23-shot rally ended when the third seed fired long, Federer holding for a 4-1 edge.
Most observers marked him down as favorite against eight-time champion Federer - especially with a 24-15 career record, a 10-3 advantage in Grand Slam play and a 4-0 record in semi-finals at the majors.
For Djokovic, this is his sixth Wimbledon final as he chases what would be a fifth trophy.
Here are some of the reactions. Jon Wertheim, author of "the Genius", says the New York Times: "I think it is no coincidence that both play in this advanced age".
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.
But it looks like Nadal will have to put his dreams of Grand Slam glory on hold for now because Sunday (July 14, 2019) will see Federer and Djokovic battle it out on centre court in the Wimbledon final. While they were obviously up against formidable foes, Mladenovic and Babos jut won the French Open for their second Grand Slam title together. "It was tough at the end".
"At the same time, is great to be part of this rivalry, be in the middle of these three players that achieved that much in the sport in the same era". A commanding display from Federer saw him tackle past Nadal and into his 12 Wimbledon final.
"I think I had spells where I was serving very well and the biggest points in the matches went my way". It was certainly the tensest, and after Federer saved break point he saw two more match points come and go.
Or maybe Djokovic will push his total to 16, just two behind Nadal and four away from Federer.
Federer took the third set 6-3 and edged ever closer in the fourth, breaking in the third game and then nearly sealing it in the ninth, only for Nadal to save two match points and tell Federer he would have to do it on his own serve.
If Sunday's clash is anything like this one, we are in for a treat. Djokovic got his first major final win over Federer in thrilling fashion at the All England Club, triumphing 6-7 (7-9) 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 5-7 6-4 despite letting championship point slip in the fourth and facing break points in the decider.
"Novak played great against Bautista Agut, he was supreme, again", said Federer.
The last time they met at a Grand Slam was in the Australian Open semifinals in 2016, where Djokovic prevailed in four sets. Today is sad because for me I know chances are not forever.
This one felt like just as much of a classic contest, though, one that anyone present is not likely to forget. "Just doesn't give you any of the same looks". But for an erratic collapse in the second frame, he was in command throughout the match - including a first-set tiebreak - with Nadal straining in pursuit, racing around the court on unreliable knees. Djokovic said. "Sometimes I show my emotions, sometimes I don't".
"I had planned to be in Ibiza right now", he said in his post-match press conference.
Friday's match turned on an wonderful 45-shot rally in the seventh game of the third set, which Djokovic won to hold serve and stay a break up.