Euphoric as he reflected on his momentous 2001 US Open triumph, Lleyton Hewitt couldn't help but notice the flight attendants sobbing on his trip home from New York.
High on life, the soon-to-be world No.1 tennis star thought nothing of it.
It was only after touching down in Sydney that Hewitt learned it wasn't only his whole world that had changed forever that week in Manhattan.
Less than 36 hours after his stunning straight-sets final win over the legendary Peter Sampras, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US provided the then-21-year-old a sobering perspective on life.
"There were bigger things going on in the world," Hewitt recalled ahead of the 20th anniversary of his bittersweet breakthrough.
In a sliding doors moment, Hewitt had been scheduled to parade his maiden grand-slam trophy to photographers at the World Trade Centre twin towers before boarding his flight home.
But needing to rush back to Australia for a Davis Cup semi-final starting only days later, those media plans were scrapped.
"The day after the US Open was the 10th of September. I went around and did all the rounds of the media. There was actually talk of going to have one of the photo shoots at the World Trade Centre on that particular day," Hewitt said.
"We ended up doing it at Central Station so things played out slightly differently. It was incredible how it played out."
Hewitt will never forget the scenes on the plane home.
"At one stage mid-flight there were two or three air hostesses sitting in the galley of the plane and they were actually crying," he said.
"I didn't think anything of it at the time.
"But when we landed in Sydney the pilot came out. He tried to explain as best he could what had happened while we were mid-air on that flight."
Australian Federal Police officers then quizzed passengers, Hewitt recalled.
"We had to fill out a lot of forms before we got off the plane purely because we had come from New York, whether we saw anything at the airports, how things could have played out potentially that we witnessed," the now-40-year-old said.
"It's a surreal moment.
"We were just in New York and to think that the whole city had changed while we were on that flight and when we landed in Australia on the other side of the world it was completely different."
It was all a far cry from the scene Hewitt was part of 48 hours earlier.
The AFL-loving, diehard Adelaide Crows fan had wildly celebrated in the Big Apple with the touring Western Bulldogs in the joyous aftermath of his take-down of the then-all-time men's major title winner Sampras.
"It was just more disbelief for me, to think I was out two nights before partying on cloud nine after winning my biggest title," Hewitt said.
Bulldogs Luke Darcy, Tony Liberatore and Nathan Brown watched Hewitt's victory over Sampras.
"After the match, they came down and kicked a footy on the centre court, they came out and celebrated with me that evening after I won because I didn't have a lot of other Aussies over there at the time," Hewitt said.
"So a lot of thoughts go out to those people who were put in that situation, people in New York who I had been around and supported me that could have been struck up in this as well in Manhattan.
"But it was a weird situation for me to be in - to think one minute you couldn't be happier and then to just know that the whole world had changed."
Australian Associated Press
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