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Chicago: Uruguay's Valentina de Yeregui, the tennis instructor of US president-elect Barack Obama's daughters, has had her own share of fame as world media showered its attention on Malia and Sasha.

Newspapers from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy and her homeland, besides those in the US, have published articles about de Yeregui, a journalist by training with tennis "at heart", who emigrated in 2006 from Montevideo to accompany her husband Ignacio, an economist who attended graduate school at the University of Chicago.

"Everyone wants to know how the girls are, what their mother Michelle is like, and the only thing I can say is that they're ordinary people," 28-year-old Valentina said.

"Malia and Sasha are sweet girls, just like anyone else their age, and they haven't changed because of all the attention," she added.

Obama's daughters started taking lessons from de Yeregui about 18 months ago at a tennis facility in Hyde Park, the South Chicago neighbourhood where the US president-elect lives.

Valentina was sent there by her employer, the Midtown Tennis Club, to teach the basics of the sport to students at the University of Chicago's Lab School, attended by Sasha and Malia.

De Yeregui, who was teaching a larger number of children between six and 12 years of age than any other tennis professional at the facility, was chosen when Michelle Obama sent an e-mail requesting an instructor for Malia, now 10, and Sasha, who turned eight this year.

"It was a surprise because at that time Obama was a candidate for the Democratic nomination and it was news every day," she said, "but at the same time it was normal because that's the neighbourhood club, where the people from the neighbourhood go."

But the surprise was even bigger when, in addition to Malia and Sasha, Michelle Obama also showed up for lessons, interested in improving her technique.

Since then, the girls have practised every Sunday for 90 minutes with de Yeregui and their mother has taken a private lesson on another court with a different instructor, always with Secret Service agents on hand to discreetly monitor the premises.

Because of the good rapport that was developed between de Yeregui and her famed pupils, Obama's wife and daughters followed her when she was transferred by her club to courts on the west side of Chicago, far from Hyde Park.

De Yeregui, whose father Alberto is a tennis instructor in Uruguay, said she was born "with a racquet in her hand", just as her three siblings were.

She took up the sport as a young girl and, after winning several tournaments at the national level, represented Uruguay in competitions throughout South America and in events around the world.

Although she went on to study communications and obtain her university degree, "tennis is my passion and I love being able to play every day", said de Yeregui, who was an instructor for 10 years in Uruguay at the Bigua and Nautilus clubs in Montevideo.

Her husband finished his master's degree in economics at the University of Chicago this year and the couple plans to return to their home country in February 2009.

But when asked if she would like to stay on as the Obama family's instructor, after they relocate to the White House, she said laughing: "First they'd have to offer something and then I'll see."

The Obama family has already visited their future home in Washington, begun to look for a school for Malia and Sasha and publicly expressed their desire to adopt a dog.

The president-elect's barber has even been told that he may have to travel once a week to the nation's capital to attend to his celebrated client, but de Yeregui said she is in the dark about the future first family's plans with regard to tennis.

"My plans are to return to Montevideo in February, once the tennis groups I'm responsible for finish up. But I'm sad about leaving behind my students because I've grown attached to all of them, not only the Obama daughters," de Yeregui said.

Courtesy of Sify.com