Say this much for Clint Cordial, at least, he knew who Pete Sampras was.
Cordial grew up in Missoula, played baseball in college, and, to be fair, knew the names of a couple other tennis players, too. He knew Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, and even Andy Roddick. But the last time he played competitive tennis, if one can even call it that, he was in gym class, and the closest he had been to a professional tournament before 2012 was when he watched one on TV.
So what, then, was Clint Cordial doing traipsing around the hallowed grounds of Stade Roland-Garros in Paris just a few years later, rubbing elbows with some of the game’s all-time greats and, unlikeliest of all, bumping into his brothers — and a not-to-be-named high-profile musician — in the locker room hallways?
“How cool is that?” Cordial remarked earlier this month, during a rare few minutes of free time back home in Whitefish. “We were all over Paris, hanging out, during the French Open, and it was awesome.”
The Cordial brothers, Clint, Rory and Casey, were in Paris with their clients. Rory’s was the singer, Casey’s was a Bulgarian tennis pro named Grigor Dimitrov, and Clint’s was John Isner, the best American man on the ATP Tour.
Clint is Isner’s chiropractor, the kind of job that sounds innocuous enough until you consider the man he works on nearly every day of the year. Isner is 6-foot-10 and owns one of the most devastating serves the world has ever known, a guided missile topping out at more than 157 miles per hour and delivered using every inch of his massive frame. He is also, at 33 years old, ranked in the top 10 in the world (No. 9 as of Feb. 4), playing the best tennis of his life, and remarkably healthy, the last bit of which he credits massively to the man from Missoula who has been at his side for seven years.
“I think the proof is sort of in the pudding,” Isner said. “For the most part I’ve been very, very healthy, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to Clint.”
Isner won his first elite Masters 1000 tournament, the Miami Open, in April of last year and made headlines with his post-match victory speech where he thanked, by name, his personal chiropractor. It prompted stories in the national media, from places like ESPN, Men’s Journal and Tennis.com, that asked some version of the same question: Who in the heck is Clint Cordial?
The easygoing 36-year-old is the product of a truly remarkable family, led by his father, Tim, a physical therapist and the founder of Cordial Health in Missoula. Clint is one of five children, only one of whom is not in some way connected to the family business, and it was one of his brothers, Rory, who first became connected to the tennis world, years after Clint’s baseball career at Hawaii-Hilo had ended.
Rory did a physical therapy internship at an elite athletic performance facility in Arizona, Athletes Performance (now called EXOS), where he connected with a young American tennis player named Mardy Fish. The two began working together and Rory later took on another American, James Blake, who he was working with when he invited his brothers, chiropractors Clint and Casey, to an ATP tournament in Cincinnati in early 2012.
“I was in grad school (in Iowa), flew out to hang out with Rory and I actually met (Isner) there,” Clint said. “Then in March there was this Indian Wells (California) tournament, (Isner) gave me a try and he did really good.”
Isner reached the finals in both singles and doubles at that tournament in Indian Wells, at that point the best performance of his professional career, and when the next tournament rolled around Isner again asked Clint to travel with him as his chiropractor. It wasn’t long before Isner asked Clint to join him for the remainder of the season.
“Pretty much that was it, that was all she wrote,” Isner said of the tournament at Indian Wells. “Clint and I decided to work together full-time and we’ve been together ever since.”
For Clint Cordial, just out of graduate school and with limited practical experience, the opportunity was way too good to pass up, and nothing he had ever expected.
“At that time it was, like, ‘this is awesome,’” Cordial said. “I’m really grateful for that opportunity, to be able to have seen some of the stuff and gone to some of the places that I’ve gone to.”
The top-tier of professional tennis takes players across the United States, Europe and beyond, and Cordial has been with Isner at nearly every tournament since 2012, traveling sometimes as often as 40 weeks a year. And while he carries the title of chiropractor, Cordial is responsible for the complete care of Isner’s body, ensuring his 6-foot-10 machine runs smoothly during the long, grueling season. He compares his treatment of Isner to keeping water flowing through a garden hose, straightening out any kinks between his spine and his extremities so that the rest of his body can flourish. It’s a combination of chiropractic and physical therapy work that makes Clint — and his brother, Casey — unique on the ATP Tour.
“When people think chiropractor they think ‘crack, crack, get you aligned,’ but Clint, he’s great with massage, he’s great with stretching, he’s great with rehab and repair,” Isner said. “I think his skillset might be a little bit different, so I think for me that’s just an added bonus that he knows so much about chiropractic, which I’m a big, big believer in.”
Isner’s first experience with a chiropractor came in college at the University of Georgia, where a nagging back injury was keeping him completely sidelined and the school’s medical staff puzzled. Losing patience, Isner went to a nearby chiropractor and returned to the court just three days later. He’s aware, too, that his size makes him a uniquely challenging patient for any type of physician.
“Any athlete will tell you, when you start to develop any compensation (for discomfort), that’s when injuries arise,” Isner said. “For me, everything is so exaggerated. (Cordial)’s making sure that everything is working together and working symmetrically, and a huge part of that is us communicating with each other.”
In the seven years they have been working together, Isner and Cordial have worked to develop that honest communication, and the results can be seen not just on the court but off of it, where Cordial and Isner have built a close bond.
“Clint’s one of my very best friends,” Isner said. “I probably spend more time with Clint than I do anyone … Really, you can argue that apart from my wife I spend the most time with Clint, and because we spend so much time together it’s important that we get along together. We have a great relationship.”
The two men’s longevity is uncommon in sports, where volatile personalities and high stakes tend to exacerbate conflict, but both Isner and Cordial say their time together has made them even more secure. Cordial continues to study his craft, learning the newest ways to keep Isner healthy, and the tennis star has returned the favor by remaining loyal to his chiropractor through good and bad times in his career.
Isner truly is at his peak today, qualifying for the eight-person ATP World Finals last year and currently ranking 21 spots higher than any other American man. Still, at 33 years old Isner is likely on the back half of his 12-year career, and with a new baby at home he is starting to see things from a slightly different perspective.
Cordial, too, has a newborn to take care of, and was given time off — the first and only time he’s asked for it — by Isner late last year to help his long-time girlfriend Marlesa bring their daughter, Coco, into the world. (The pair also has a son, Cruz). Cordial says Isner will be his one and only full-time tennis client and he plans to open a private practice when Isner decides his services are no longer needed.
“There will be a time where Clint and I are not working together,” Isner said. “And that’s because I’m not playing professional tennis.”