The Spaniard lost 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Federer despite a blistering showing in the second set.
Rafael Nadal was bidding to make a first Wimbledon final since 2011 but despite saving four match points, ultimately succumbed to his long-time rival Federer in a thrilling three-hour Centre Court battle.
That ends Nadal’s chances of moving one Grand Slam away from Roger Federer, who boasts 20 major titles, until at least the US Open in September.
Federer, meanwhile, will hope to move himself three Slams clear of Nadal and faces reigning SW19 champion Novak Djokovic in tomorrow’s championship match.
But while Nadal had come into his showdown with Swiss icon Federer in strong form, he lost many of the longer rallies.
And McEnroe – an eight-time Grand Slam winner himself – was shocked Nadal didn’t look to alter his game as Federer utilised his backhand – a shot that used to be his weakness – to come out on top in their 40th career clash.
Nadal paid tribute to Federer post-match, posting own Twitter: “Amazing match well deserved win by @rogerfederer I had some chances but… Roger played better. Good luck for the final @Wimbledon 2019. Thanks all for the support. Always fantastic to be here. See you next year!”
In reaction, speaking on BBC’s Today at Wimbledon, McEnroe said: “Classy. Very, very, very classy.
“I was surprised. I get early that Rafa was standing back but it wasn’t working that well off the return.
“I was surprised he didn’t make more adjustments to get back on the court and also that he didn’t move forward.
“I thought he showed a lot of skill in this tournament volleying. But he didn’t do much of it today, very little.”
Nadal fended off four match points in the fourth set and had the opportunity to break back for 5-5, only to fire a tame backhand into the net.
And McEnroe thinks the 33-year-old will be stirring over his missed chance for some time.
He added: “You can’t get a better look than that to get back in the match at 5-4 when you’ve been in a little bit of an uphill battle.
“He served like 30, 40 per-cent which is unheard of for him.
“To have a look like that? He’s going to be thinking about that one for a while.”