Roddick doesn't deserve all this blame

It's not Andy Roddick's fault no other American has risen to take some of the heat off of him.

At some point, routines just become ruts. And while watching Andy Roddick in the first round of the French Open Sunday, you might have gotten annoyed at him. Irritated. Frustrated. You were in the rut.

It has been years of feeling that way about Roddick, especially at Roland Garros. But the truth is, it’s time to get off Andy Roddick’s back.

He’s not the present anymore. He’s the past. And it’s not his fault that no other American player has been good enough to move into the present and take the torch of U.S. tennis from him. Roddick, aging, stands there holding it, judged by it.

He lost 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to Nicolas Mahut, the guy known for losing the marathon 2010 Wimbledon match to John Isner, 70-68 in the fifth set. Mahut is 30, and a journeyman. Before Sunday, in his long career, he had won just one match in the main draw of the French Open.

So he now has beaten some guy named Mischa Zverev, and also Andy Roddick. Mahut had also won just six matches at the tour level on clay.

Now, it’s seven.

“I move horrendously out here,’’ Roddick said afterward. “My first step is just so bad on this stuff. I feel like I’m always shuffling or hopping or not stopping or something.’’

Roddick, who has had hamstring injuries all year, said he is comfortable on grass, where the tour will move after the French. The idea is that he can be himself again by Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Mahut said this “was not the No. 1 Roddick, the No. 1 player in the world that we know.’’

This is denial. Roddick has not been No. 1 in eight years. He hasn’t been in the top five in nearly three years. He won just one major, the US Open, in his entire career. And that was nine years ago.

He’ll turn 30 this summer. His body is falling apart, and his ranking has fallen to No. 33. But he has been the face of U.S. men’s tennis for so long that people hold him to the level of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors.

That’s OK. It’s the burden of the top American. But Roddick never got there. And make what you want of his career — he’s been called an underachiever and an overachiever — but that standard no longer applies to him. Roddick is not going to win another major.

He can still play some great matches, and maybe can get to a quarterfinal one more time. But whatever you think of his career, the meat of it was in the past.

The only reason he’s still being held to that standard is that no other American man has been good enough to be held to it. Mardy Fish came along and got into the top 10, but that was already the late-point of his career. He is fighting an illness now, and also has peaked. It was a feel-good story when he was doing the things Roddick has spent his career being ripped for.

John Isner? He might be the guy to relieve Roddick. Maybe soon. He’s the best American, and ranked No. 11. But for now, he’s seen more as a cult figure for being so tall and for beating Mahut in the longest match in history. It’s going to be a while before anyone puts expectations on him. Ryan Harrison is coming up, though a little slowly.

Brian Baker is the great American story in this French Open, back after six years and multiple hip and elbow surgeries. A former top 2 junior in the world, who beat junior Novak Djokovic, Baker disappeared. Suddenly, he has re-emerged. There is no way to be critical of him no matter what.

See, Roddick is old enough that some American should have come along.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t judge his career. It’s up for debate. He spent a decade in the top 10, had a brief run at No. 1 and won a major. He also has had success in Davis Cup, and is going to keep his ranking high enough to get into this summer’s London Olympics.

Hall of Fame? Sure.

To me, though, he was an underachiever. He led the game, and then let Roger Federer, then Rafael Nadal, pass him by. That’s not the worst of things, letting all-time greats get by you. And some people say Roddick just didn’t have the talent to keep up. The truth is, he was too stubborn for too long to make changes. It took him years to bother developing a backhand, or to learn how to come to the net and not to just rely on a booming serve and forehand.

When he finally committed to change, and improved his diet and footwork, too, he nearly beat Federer in the Wimbledon final in 2009. That might have been the most popular Roddick has ever been. It looked like the beginning of something, but Roddick hasn’t gotten past a major quarterfinal since.

As he has gotten older, even his forehand has turned to mush.

But that’s an argument about his career. He can’t be The Guy anymore, though it’s not easy breaking free from the rut of seeing him as the American tennis star. It has been so long.

If you want, just hold out hope that he has one more run left in him. But the frustrations about him now shouldn’t be nearly as bad as the frustrations from his past.

Don’t blame him just because no other American is good enough to be frustrated about.