She is not playin’, sports fans, even when she’s playin’. That’s what I have come to love about Serena Williams. She’s been one of the top five athletes in the world for years now, but she has never stopped being Serena. If you haven’t heard about the U.S. Open Women’s Final from Saturday in Flushing Meadows, it’s okay, you’ve got the highlights.

Have you ever been accused of “losing your mind,” or “having a meltdown,” or “throwing a nutty?” When I was coaching my son’s 11-year-old youth basketball team years ago, and I went sideways about a ref’s “unjust” call, I was gently pulled aside by my assistant coach and told that I was having a meltdown.  He actually went all Galatians 5, “Fruits of the Spirit” on me: “Bro, God has given us a spirit of self-control.” Those words stung in that instant, a lot. No one wants a mid-game admonishment.  However, those words also calmed me down and probably kept me from getting kicked out of the game.  I thanked him afterward.

On Saturday, my favorite athlete of all-time (hands down) Serena Williams, didn’t have the benefit of a teammate with (well intended, slightly misinterpreted) Bible verses. It strikes me here that Serena was left to fight alone, in a sea of millions. It was just her and the umpire, mano-a-mano, and the boom microphone on Center Court caught everything she said.  The people present there who love her the most–her coach, family, and friends–could not come to her aid without creating a bigger scene. They had to sit and watch.

That puts all of this in a different light for me. When I’m “competing,” I’m not thinking about being relational and gracious.  I’m thinking about winning. That’s not noble necessarily, but it is how I’m wired, and how Serena’s wired, I think. She wears her heart on the ragged edge of her sleeve–and she always wears sleeves! It’s her style, which is so cool. And in a Grand Slam Final, in which she was hoping to set an all-time record, of course the ante is upped all the more.

This is where I think that Serena’s critics are missing the point. They argue she should’ve exhibited more decorum, more respect for the historical venue, more grace to her opponent in that moment. But how can anyone turn down the intensity in the middle of a championship, especially after a very poor call was just levied against her? As I’ve watched the replays here, I think she’s probably more upset about how bad the actual “call” was. Regardless, competition isn’t the place in the garden that cultivates the fruits of the Spirit, at least not in my life. I would call the umpire a “thief,” too. Have you seen John McEnroe go off on a tennis umpire at Center Court? Did you hear Richard Sherman describe his own inner-competitor at the end of a particularly memorable NFC Championship?

So, I was on Team Serena on Saturday. I pulled for her to pull it together. She didn’t. The moment got the better of her, and she lost. Please though, don’t tell me that it was because her meltdown cost her her composure. She’s a competitor. Competitors do that! Who knows it better than us? We do it all the time. Sometimes we reel it back in, but then again, we’re not on live television, nor are we Serena Williams.

Serena Williams hasn’t been the media’s darling, which, in my world, actually makes her more virtuous. She has always been herself. I’d argue that she has continued to do that whilst also having to bear up under the imposing “thou shalts” of a champion. My heart broke a little for Serena on Saturday. (I know she’ll be fine. I don’t have to worry about her.) Truth be told, my heart was actually breaking for me, because what if that was me out there, in that moment, speaking up alone in front of millions of judges? I know I’d do no better.

Of course, the hope for Christians lies elsewhere, in a friend (and not a competitor) who wasn’t in it to win at all. And while he stood before the crowd, misunderstood, he still “didn’t say a mumbling word.” I know that’s divine justice. But if I’m being honest, justice Serena style is justice as I would have it, too.