Instead, it was the exact opposite, as the two all-time great players put on a performance reminiscent of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at their best.
The result was a five-set 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory for Federer that gave him the 18th Grand Slam title of his career.
The Swiss has won more career Grand Slam titles than any other man in the history of the sport. Meanwhile, the Spaniard has 14 Grand Slam titles, the same total as retired American Pete Sampras.
The match was filled with tension throughout, and the back-and-forth encounter in the final set when Federer earned a love-40 advantage on Nadal's serve and leading by a 4-3 score.
The determined 30-year-old fought back to deuce on two occasions, but Federer managed to take the game and get the chance to serve out the match.
Nadal took the first two points for a love-30 lead, but his opponent had enough gas in the tank to hold off the No. 9 seed and earn his first Grand Slam title since 2012.
The Spaniard has dominated his overall series with Federer, but the victory in the Australian Open was clearly a sweet and memorable moment. The latter is now 12-23 lifetime against his longtime foe.
It was a victory that earned Federer $3.67 million (AUD) in prize money, equating to $2.6 million (USD). Nadal's runner-up total was $1.9 million (AUD).
Federer had missed the final six months of the 2016 tennis season to rehabilitate further following knee surgery in February that year, and the Australian Open was his comeback tournament.
There were few expectations that he would have a long run in Melbourne, let alone reach the final and win the title. Federer was the 17th seed as the tournament began.
Nadal also overcame major odds as the ninth seed. He has been battling a wrist injury, but he was in excellent form throughout the tournament.
Both players were gracious after the match. Federer said he did not have expectations of playing Nadal in the championship round or winning the tournament.
"I don't think either of us believed we would be here," the 35-year-old told the appreciative crowd. "I would have been happy to share the title."
Nadal challenged the ruling on the final point of the match, hoping that the replay system would overturn the championship point. But when it was demonstrated that Federer's shot caught the line and was successful, he congratulated his rival warmly.
"I think today was a great match," the Spaniard said. "Probably Roger deserved a little bit more than me. I'm just going to keep trying."
Federer demonstrated a big advantage in power in the final match, as he recorded 73 winners compared to Nadal's 35, according to the Australian Open website. That was the biggest difference between the two players.
The Swiss has won more than $98 million (USD) in his career, but this triumph was one that represented far more than cash. It was an unexpected comeback that was capped off by a stellar championship match between two of the greatest players the sport has ever seen.