Video/ Photos by: Long Nguyen Words by: Amy Rigby
The little shop at 533A Ramona Street was easy to overlook. Tucked away inside the bustling Nola Restaurant and Bar in downtown Palo Alto, The Racket Web appeared to be nothing but a tiny room filled with tennis memorabilia. Antique wooden rackets, vintage tennis ball tins and yellowing newspaper clippings lined the walls.
Similarly, the owner, John Mundorff, soft spoken and exceedingly modest, was easy to overlook. But the moment photographer Long Nguyen set foot in the store in early 2013 to get a tennis racket restrung, he knew there was more than met the eye.
"The first day I met John, I knew that I wanted to document him,“ Nguyen said. “I can’t describe what I felt, but I knew that someone needed to tell his story.”
In September 2014, Nguyen found out Mundorff would be shutting down The Racket Web within the next month. That's what inspired Nguyen to produce "The Last String," a touching tribute to Mundorff's career and, somewhat surprisingly, a love story too.
What many passersby on their way to enjoy a meal in Nola never realized was that the man in the tiny store inside this busy restaurant served as the sole racket stringer for the Stanford University tennis teams for 30 years. During that time, Stanford won 27 NCAA titles.
"You might not measure my career in terms of financial things and stuff like that," Mundorff said. "But I think I've done a pretty good job. I'm proud of it."
Mundorff opened The Racket Web in October 1977, after taking up tennis as a hobby with his wife. Back then the store was surrounded by other small businesses—a frame store, a tie-dye shop and a pottery studio. By 2014, Mundorff's was the last store standing.
During his 37 years of stringing rackets in his shop, he worked with tennis coach greats Dick Gould and Frank Brennan, growing to see them more as friends than as clients. In fact, Mundorff recalled the time his wife suffered a heart attack; Gould was one of the first in line to visit her.
"It cheered her up..." Mundorff said, trailing off as he choked back tears. Finally he whispered, "I can't talk about that.”
For Mundorff (known as "Mundy" to the Stanford tennis teams), the most valuable part of his career was not the wins, the titles or the prestige—it was the friendships he formed.
"This place has been a hub of all those friendships,” he said. “This is where they came together. That's not going to be there anymore, but the lasting memories for me, and hopefully for them, will still be there.”
Though stringing rackets was a labor of love, Mundorff decided to retire in October 2014 in order to pursue his true love: his wife of 47 years.
"We got married to be together," he said. "You take all these vows and stuff about 'Till death do you part'...but you're parted by work. We want to be together. So I'm looking forward to it."
He described a recent trip to Santa Cruz, where he and his wife walked hand-in-hand, had an outdoor brunch, and spent time "just looking at each other” while enjoying the sunshine.
"We're looking forward to those kind of simple things,” Mundorff said. “Just being together."
Though The Racket Web is closed now, the memorabilia packed up and stored away long ago, the legacy of Mundorff’s passion and love will live on long after the last string is strung.