Cincinnati - Roger Federer moved into pole position for a US Open title run on Sunday, capturing his seventh Cincinnati Masters with a dominant 7-6 (7/1), 6-3 win over Novak Djokovic.
The 34-year-old Swiss star added the Serbian world No 1 to a victims' list which included Andy Murray in the semi-finals, capping a near-perfect week for the 17-time Grand Slam winner.
Federer was playing his first tournament since falling to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final.
He passed up the Montreal Masters won by Murray last week, preferring to rest and prepare at home.
"It's great, I didn't expect it, to be quite honest. I knew I had a chance, but I still felt more guys were going to have a better shot than I had because they had played Montreal before," Federer said.
"Usually that helps. But I've realized over all the years that it's just really difficult to win back-to-back Montreal and Cincinnati, or Toronto and Cincinnati.
"I chose to roll the dice a little bit and see how things were going to go. If they went great here then it was a great plan.
"If not, I was going to go back and practice and be really motivated for the US Open to start."
The gamble paid off for Federer, who needed 90 minutes to subdue Djokovic.
With the win he takes back the world number two ranking Murray seized for a week and will be seeded second behind Djokovic at Flushing Meadows for the season's concluding Grand Slam which starts on August 31.
Federer claimed his 87th career ATP title and his 24th trophy in a Masters 1000 event.
Djokovic, meanwhile, was thwarted in his bid to become the first man to win all nine of the elite Masters 1000 titles as he endured his fifth final defeat at Cincinnati -- the lone Masters missing from his resume.
The Serbian world No 1 has now fallen in the final of both of his tune-up events for the US Open, having lost to Murray in Montreal.
He didn't muster a break point against Federer, whose superiority was clear in the first-set tiebreaker.
Federer's variety of shots included an aggressive return on selected second serves, in which he advanced almost to the service line to surprise the Serb.
After seizing a 4-1 lead in the second set, Federer gave himself three match points with his seventh ace of the contest and converted on the first to the cheers of a partisan crowd.
The 34-year-old - who wasn't broken all week - nudged ahead of Djokovic 21-20 in their head-to-head series.
"I think we really get the best out of each other, we've improved a lot over the years playing each other," Federer said.
After struggling all week, Djokovic said he knew Federer would be a tough nut to crack.
"I knew coming in that he was going to be aggressive, no question about it. So I tried to handle it," he said.
"I did well until the tiebreak in the first set. After that, he was just the better player. I had some double-faults, dropped my service game.
"The way I played this week, it's great I managed to reach the finals."
Djokovic isn't giving up on his Cincinnati dream.
"This year I got to the final, it's a step closer," he said. "I'm going to keep going, keep fighting to make history.
"Obviously it's a great incentive and inspired me to come back and play my best tennis."
Federer fancies his chances at the US Open in New York, where he won the last of his five titles in 2008.
"I've got the confidence, I've got the matches, and I'm actually still feeling really fresh even after this week, because the matches have been rather short," he said.
"Because I didn't play both tournaments (Montreal and Cincinnati), I can really pace myself next week and see how much practice I actually really need."