Andy Murray lost his Madrid Open crown and relinquished his spot as world number two on Sunday as Novak Djokovic won his fifth tour title of the year.
The Scot had set up his final by handing home favourite Rafael Nadal a rare defeat on clay 24 hours earlier and he became the first player to take a set off Djokovic in this tournament.
However, the Serb geared up for this month's French Open - the only grand slam title he has not claimed - with a 6-2 3-6 6-3 success.
The world number one had not dropped a set all tournament prior to this final and that will be some consolation to Murray, who knows he now trails both his conqueror and Roger Federer in the rankings ahead of Roland Garros.
Murray will also have been heartened by his resilience in the decider when he staved off a couple of championship points and brought up a flurry of break points himself only to see Djokovic fight back again and again.
Djokovic had won all of the three previous meetings between the two on this surface and he raced out of the blocks again as he broke Murray in his first service game and then swiftly moved into a 4-1 advantage.
The Scot was 15-30 down and facing a 6-1 first-set loss and, although three big serves helped him out of trouble, Djokovic won the next game by swatting away a baseline forehand to wrap things up in 31 minutes.
Murray was finding some rhythm, though, and a confident forehand winner in the second set elicited applause from the Serb before the reigning champion broke Djokovic to go 3-1 up.
It was a double fault that sealed the game as Murray's decision to step up inside his baseline prompted Djokovic to push his second serve long.
Murray weathered the storm for the remainder of the set and a delicious drop shot hauled him back on to terms with a 6-3 success.
Djokovic's roar was back in the decider when Murray attempted an audacious lob as he lost grip of a long rally which culminated in the top seed going 2-0 up.
However, Murray fought back immediately and once more the break was confirmed courtesy of a double fault as the Scot's unorthodox position to his opponent's serve saw him push his second try too deep again.
Yet Djokovic continued to push Murray to the limit and a series of unforced errors opened the door to another break which was snaffled by a backhand which clipped the chalk.
Murray survived championship point on his own serve with some more big serving but he then missed a plethora of chances in Djokovic's service game, having been 0-40 up, as the Serb continued his dominance with a 15th straight win over a top-10 rival.