It was his first triumph at the All England Club in his third consecutive final against the elegant Swiss.
Now the seemingly unstoppable Spaniard not only had a first Olympic title in his sights, but also the chance to knock Federer off his pedestal as world number one, a position he had held for the previous four and a half years.
Nadal opened his campaign a matter of weeks after claiming the Wimbledon title in London and when he lost a set in his opening match against Italy’s Potito Starace it seemed the effects of long season might be taking its toll.
However he came through that tight opener and then lost just 13 games as he ripped through the bottom half of the draw and reach the final at the Olympic Green Tennis Centre. Meanwhile the seeds were being cast asunder elsewhere in the drawer.
Britain’s Andy Murray, seeded sixth, was sent packing in the opening round by Taiwan’s Yen-hsun Lu, fourth seed Nikolay Davydenko lost in round two, and even Federer suffered a first career defeat at the hands of American James Blake in the quarter-final.
Nadal would face Chile’s dashing Fernando Gonzalez in the final after he came through a controversial three-set semi-final against Blake, winning 11-9 in the decider.
The omens, if not the form, favoured Gonzalez. He had won their two previous encounters on hardcourts while Chile boasted an excellent record in the event with Nicolas Massu winning gold in Athens four years earlier before partnering Gonzalez to win the doubles.
Yet Nadal’s swashbuckling style was too much for Gonzalez, who did well to carve out a set point in the second set tiebreak, and the Spaniard ran out a 6-3 7-6 6-3 victory, falling onto his back and punching his fists at the moment of triumph.
Novak Djokovic, beaten by Nadal in the semi-final, beat Blake in the bronze medal play-off.