"I don't know how many players have come back from surgery and won the first Grand Slam back in their second tournament," he said. "[It's] very unlikely to happen. I just need to use this as, I guess, a steppingstone to getting better and be happy that I've got through five matches. The last two were particularly tough.
"Yeah, I'm playing at a decent level fairly quickly again. Hopefully I'll be back playing my best tennis soon."
Federer, meanwhile, while falling somewhat short of shouting from the rooftops, reveled in rediscovering the simple gifts that were always at his disposal.
"Physically, I know that I can do it," he said. "And then because I'm feeling good physically, then I can really think about tactics I want to play, how aggressive or how passive do you want to play. I have all these opportunities now."
Against Nadal, who owns a 22-10 advantage in their head-to-head series (including 7-2 on outdoor hard courts and 8-2 in Grand Slams, all finals), Federer faces a player who dropped his first set in the tournament in the quarterfinals, but as has always been his trademark, did what he had to do to win.
Now two matches shy of becoming the only man in the Open era to win each of the four Grand Slams at least two times each, the tournament's top seed simply outworked his 22-year-old opponent, Grigor Dimitrov, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7), 6-2.
But Nadal, who has been suffering with a painfully raw blister on his racket hand that has affected his serve the most, said he relied on other strengths Wednesday.
"I am sure that you need to be strong physically," he said. "But at one point it's more mental than physical. The emotion to keep playing, the motivation to win the match, makes you resist little bit more and little bit more, and you always want a little bit more.
"That's what I am thinking when I am tired: I can do it. I can [do it a] little bit more. [This] happened in the past, happened a lot in the past that I resist [in] tough matches, so that gave me the confidence that I can do it again."
After falling out of the top five last year and failing to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002, it is a mantra Federer hears as well.
"The whole retirement question started like in '09," he said. "Here we are five years down the road and I'm getting asked less. So that's a good thing. [But] then I think it's OK to talk about age because, yeah, I'm not 22. But most of the guys now are between 26 and 28 now and have a lot of miles on their body, so I'm not the only guy.
"Yeah, things don't get easier. But at the same time they might become more enjoyable. Maybe I can play with less pressure. Maybe I just love it. I still love competition. I still feel maybe there's something big around the corner. I'm just trying to find out and see if that's the case. I do feel it is. But only time will tell if it's possible or not."